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The Ohio State University Bulletin 

Volume 26 April 29, 1922 Number 13 


The Karen People of Burma: 

A Study in Anthropology 
and Ethnology 



Missionary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, 

Member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain 

and Ireland, and of the American Oriental Society 


Entered as second-class matter November 17, 1905, at the postoffice at Columbus, Ohio, 

under Act of Congress, July 16, 1894. Acceptance for mailing at special rate of postage 

provided for in Section 1103. Act of October 3, 1917. Authorized July 10. 1918. 



CAMBRUju «.. MASS.' 

Copyright, 1922 
By The Ohio State UmviBaiTY 


To many a visitor to Burma, who views the country from the deck 
of an Irrawaddy River steamer or from the window of a railway 
carriage, there appears to be little difference between the Karen and 
the Burman. This is not strange, for many individuals of the non- 
Burman tribes wear the Burmese costume and speak the Burmese 
language; and they present no markedly different characteristics 
in feature or color of skin. I have often heard the remark that 
"there is no difference between the Burman and the Karen." It is 
doubtless because the Government of Burma recognizes that there 
is a difference in the tribal characteristics, customs, and religion 
that it has adopted the wise policy of publishing a series of complete 
studies, of which this purports to be one, of these various peoples. 
If the reader will have the patience to read these pages, it is hoped 
that he will realize that, though the Karen have lived for genera- 
tions in the closest proximity to the Burmese, they preserve their 
own racial traits, which are quite distinct from those of their more 
volatile neighbors with whom they have had little in common. 

This work deals more particularly with the Sgaw branch of the 
Karen people. My own acquaintance has been more intimate with 
this tribe, though I have known many of the other groups. This 
circumstance, together with the fact that the Bwe and Taungthu 
peoples have already been described in the Upper Burma Gazetteer, 
as well as the limitations of space, has led me to limit my discussion 
to brief references to the other tribes. But I am convinced that in 
the main the Sgaw exhibit the general characteristics that are truly 
Karen in the broadest sense of the term. I have also omitted any 
detailed study of the large mass of Karen folklore, which may 
possibly be incorporated in some future study. 

The reader may notice that I have used the term "Karen," in- 
stead of the more usual plural form "Karens," when referring 
to the tribal name. This is more accurate, for to add the "s" is 
as misleading in this case as in that of the Lao, who are often mis- 
takenly spoken of as the "Laos." In the transliteration of Karen 
words I have followed the continental system of spelling, adopting 
"x" for the guttural which is pronounced like the "ch" in the Scotch 
*1och," and the dipthong "eu" for the sound which closely resembles 

• • 


the common pronunciation of "er*' as in "her." I have accepted the 
simplified spelling for the tribal names, Pwo and Bwe, in place of 
the more cumbersome "Pgho" and "Bghai." 

It is not without some misgivings that I allow these sheets to 
go to the publisher. The notes were collected at such intervals as 
could be taken from my labors as a district missionary, and that at 
a time when increasing administrative duties precluded my giving 
such attention to them as I could wish. The return to America on 
furlough necessitated the completion of the work on the opposite 
side of the world from the sources of my material, and where, 
though I enjoyed the privileges of a Graduate Fellowship at the 
Ohio State University, I had to depend largely on my personal col- 
lections, there being no department of Ethnology there. 

I wish to acknowledge the assistance which I have had from 
my wife, whose sjonpathetic interest and accurate knowledge have 
been of untold value, and also the help I have received from my 
missionary colleagues, among whom I should mention my father-in- 
law. Rev. D. A. W. Smith, D.D. ; Rev. C. A. Nichols, D.D., who was 
first to ask me to undertake the preparation of this work, and 
Rev. E. N. Harris. Among the many Karen members of the mission 
staff who have helped in the gathering of materials, I can only 
mention Thras San Gyi San Kwe, Po Myaing, and Shwe Thee, of 
Tharrawaddy; Thra Pan Ya Se, of Shwegyin; and Thra Aung 
Gaing, of Insein, who gave me a full account of the Karen of Siam. 
The sketches signed "D. P." are the work of a Karen schoolboy 
from Tavoy, Saw Day Po, who, to his credit it should be said, drew 
them without having had any instruction in drawing whatever. 
My thanks are also due to Drs. B. Laufer and Fay Cooper-Cole, of 
the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, for many valuable 
suggestions, and to Professors J. A. Leighton and W. H. Siebert, 
of the Ohio State University, for many kindnesses. To Professor 
Siebert I am especially indebted for a most painstaking review of 
my entire manuscript, for its acceptance for publication, and for 
seeing it through the press of the Ohio State University. Finally, 
I desire to express my gratitude to the Government of Burma for 
the privilege of undertaking this work. The necessity for careful 
observation and thorough investigation has not been without its 
benefits to me. The undertaking has been exacting and quite in- 
structive, even if it had benefited no one but myself. 

This book is, after all, but another by-product of the great mis- 
sionary enterprise, which seeks to lift the less fortunate peoples of 




I the world to a higher plane of life and enjoyment, and to bring to 

\ them the best of our Christian civilization. If this work should 

help to make the Karen better known and understood and in any 
way assist them along their upward path, the writer will feel that 
it has all been a part of the great task to which he has dedicated 
\ his life. May the blessing of God rest upon it. 


Columbus, Ohio 
August 30, 1920 





I. Habitat and Tribal Distribution of the Karen ... 1 

II. The Origin of the Karen 5 

III. Physical Characteristics 16 

IV. Mental and Moral Characteristics 22 

V. Language 31 

VI. Dress and Ornaments 35 

VII. Measures of Time and Space. Karen Astronomy ... 48 


VIII. The Karen Village-House 56 

IX. Food and Its Preparation 66 


XI. Hunting and Fishing 96 

XII. Spinning, Dyeing, and Weaving. Mat-making and Basketry 108 

XIII. Bronze Drums 115 


XIV. Social Conditions 127 

XV. Laws and Precepts 143 

XVI. Warfare and Weapons 152 

XVII. Music, Musical Instruments, and Dancing .... 161 

XVIII. Birth Customs. Childhood 168 

XIX. Marriage Customs 176 

XX. Funeral Customs 193 


XXI. Religious Conceptions 210 

XXII. Supernatural and Mythical Beings 223 

XXIII. Propitiatory Sacrifices and Healing Offerings . . . 234 

XXIV. Feasts to the "Bgha" 248 

XXV. Mount "Thaw Thi." Religious Cults 262 

XXVI. Magic 267 

XXVII. Divinations 279 

XXVIII. Tabu 286 


XXIX. Growth of Christianity Among the Karen .... 296 

XXX. Progress of the Karen Race 304 


A. Glossary of Karen Words 315 

B. Bibliography 321 

Index 325 



A Sgaw Karen Youth with His Harp Frontispiece 


A Creek of the Jrrawaddy Delta 2 

A Mountain Stream in Burma 2 

A Path through the Bamboo Jungle, Pegua Hills 7 

The Morning Mist in the Toungoo Hills 7 

Karen Hill Men Coming Down to the Plains 13 

Karen Men from the Hills, Tharrawaddy District 15 

Karen Family with Traces of Negrito Blood 17 

Sgaw Karen Young Bloods, Ngape Eh Village, Tharrawaddy Hills . . 20 

Karen Boys 24 

Playmates: Karen Boys and the Sons of the Author 24 

A Paku Schoolgirl, Toungoo 28 

A Karen Belle 34 

A Bwe Karen Man's Suit 36 

A Karen Bamboo Comb 27 

Women's Garments - 39 

Women's Head-dress 41 

Karen Skirts and Bags 42 

A Padaung Couple, the Wife with Neck-rings and Leg-rings ... 45 

Women's Earrings 46 

A Boar's Tusk Comb 47 

Karen Girls in Burmese Costume 47 

Two Sgaw Karen Maidens 52 

The Gateway of a Village Stockade 55 

Part of a Mountain Karen Village, Tharrawaddy District .... 57 

Stockade and Gateway of the Village, Re Tho, Tharrawaddy District 57 

Plan of Shataw Village, Tharrawaddy District 59 

A Torch with Its Stand 61 

Plan of a Karen Family-room 62 

A Hill Village in Transition 63 

Sideview of a Bamboo Karen House, Kaindagyi 65 

Pounding Paddy in a Mortar 68 

The Fireplace in a Hill Karen House 69 

Karen Tobacco Pipes and a Piston for Breaking Betel-nut .... 73 

Offerings and Traps on the Edge of a Field 74 

• • • 




A Hillside Plot Cut Ready for Burning 77 

A Paddy-bin for Storing Grain in the Field 77 

Off for the Fields with Baskets and Bags 80 

Plowing a Paddy Field in Lower Burma 88 

Women Transplanting Paddy 83 

Reaping Paddy with Sickles 89 

A Threshing-floor on the Plains 89 

Winnowing Paddy 91 

Fanning Paddy 91 

Sgaw Karen Women Carrying Grain in Large Baskets 94 

Karen Houses on the Plains 94 

Turning the Buffaloes Out to Graze 95 

Setting a Spring-trap, Pegu Hills 100 

A Box Trap for Catching Birds 100 

A Large Fish-trap 103 

Climbing the Toddy-palm 103 

Cylindrical Fish-traps 105 

Bottle-shaped Fish-trap 105 

Ginning Cotton in the Pegu Hills 109 

Batting Cotton into Smooth Layers with a Bow 109 

A Karen Girl at a Burmese Loom 112 

The Karen Loom 112 

A Karen Matron Weaving under Her House 114 

Karen Bronze Drum, Nabaain Village, Tharrawaddy District . . 119 

A ''Rubbing" Showing the Pattern of the Head of the Nabaain Drum 119 

Bronze Drum from Kondagyl, Tharrawaddy District 122 

Head of the Kondagyl Drum 122 

Bronze Drum Owned by Rev. A. V. B. Crumb 125 

Head of Mr. Crumb's Drum 125 

Bringing Water for the Visitor, Nabaain Village, Tharrawaddy District 128 

Young Women Bringing in Bamboo Fuel, Tharrawaddy Hills . 132 
Plains Women Bathing in the Irrawaddy, in the Lee of the High-stemed 

Burmese Boat 132 

Carrying Water in Bamboo Joints 140 

Dipping Water from a Shallow Stream 146 

Buffaloes at Their Daily Bath 151 

Karens of Three Generations on the Plains . . . . . . . 155 

Karen Girls of the Plains Carrying Water in Earthen Pots . . . 155 

A Sgaw Karen Orchestra, Tharrawaddy Hills 160 

Karen Jew's-harps 163 



A Karen Guitar 163 

Playing the 'Taw Ku" or Karen Xylophone 165 

An Exhibition Performance on the Xylophone 165 

Musical Score of a Karen "Hta" or Poem 166 

A Child Riding on Its Mother's Hip 172 

The Friends of the Bridegroom 179 

The Bridegroom's Company Entering the Bride's Village .... 185 

The Wedding Party 185 

Karen Girls of the Plains, Tharawaddy District 191 

Christian Converts, Ngape Eh Village, Tharrawaddy District . . 191 

Sgaw Karen Young Women 196 

Arrangement of Pestles for a Funeral Game 200 

Another Arrangement of Pestles for a Funeral Game 201 

A Sketch of a Tree Used in the Funeral Games 203 

Climbing the Cocoanut-palm . 214 

A Hill Village in Transition 220 

A Karen Village on the Plains 220 

A Bwe Karen Christian Village, Toungoo District 227 

Karen Girls Pounding Paddy in a Mortar Out-of-doors 238 

A Bwe Karen Prophet 246 

A Hut Erected in a Forest Clearing by a Self-styled Prophet as the 

Center of a New Karen Religious Cult of Short Duration . . 246 

A Sgaw Karen Grandmother 251 

Karen Villagers, Tharrawaddy District 256 

Utensils for the Sacred ''Bgha" Feast of a Pwo Karen Family, Bassein 

District 260 

Village School-children with Their Teacher 266 

Paku Karen Schoolgirls 272 

Field-day, Tharrawaddy Karen High School 281 

Chicken Bones Used in Divination 282 

A Christian Karen Village School, Tharrawaddy District .... 293 

Two Karen Christian Pastors 295 

Karen Theological Students 299 

A Christian Village School, Prome District 302 

The Chapel and Schoolhouse of the American Baptist Mission High 

School, Tharrawaddy District 302 

Schoolgirls at Calisthenics, Tharrawaddy Karen High School . . . 305 

Schoolboys Lined up for Drill 305 

A Karen Teacher and Lahu Boys 308 

Rev. Thra Maung Yin, of Bassein 311 

Karen Military Police 313 


The Karen are a group of Indo-Chinese tribes living princi- 
pally in Burma, the easternmost province of the British Indian 
Empire, in the Indo-Chinese peninsula, and in the adjoining coun- 
try of Siam to the east. They are found between the tenth and 
twenty-first degrees of north latitude and between the ninety- 
fourth and one hundredth degrees of east longitude. The greater 
part of this territory they occupy in connection with the other peo- 
ples of the country, namely, the Burmese, Shan, Siamese, and Chin. 
The only exclusively Karen country is the hilly region of the Toun- 
goo district and the Karenni subdivision, where the Karen chiefs 
of five states, comprising 4,830 square miles and a population of 
42,240, are still in power under the Advisory Council of the British 
Government. There is also a Karen chief ruling one of the Shan 
States, and five other states in that section are ruled by Taungthu 
chiefs. In all these latter districts we find a mixed population.^ 

The whole group of Karen tribes can be divided into three di- 
visions, according to their language or dialect differences. These 
are the Sgaw, Pwo, and Bwe groups. 

The Sgaw group is the largest and most widely scattered. They 
are found all through the Irrawaddy Delta, from the vicinity of 
Prome southward, and from the Arracan coast eastward to the 
neighborhood of Lakong in Siam and southward to the lowest point 
of the British possessions. The Paku and Mawnepgha tribes of the 
southern Toungoo Hills belong to this group. One dialect, with 
only slight variations, is used throughout this region. 

The Pwo group comprises, besides the Pwo Karen, the Taung- 
thu tribe, who call themselves the Pao. The Pwo are found along 
the seacoast from Arracan to Mergui and are said to be found no- 
where more than fifty miles inland. However, I think that some 
of the Pwo villages in the Henzada district may be a little farther 
inland than that. The Taungthu are found in a section of country 

^ J. S. Scott: Burmat Appendix, pp. 470-481. 


A Cheek op the Irrawaddv Rives Delta. Bassein DtaraicT 


running northward from Thaton into the Shan States beyond 

The Bwe tribes are found in the vicinity of Toungoo, in the ter- 
ritory extending from the foothills east of that city throughout the 
Karenni subdivision. This is a very mountainous region, and we 
find the people broken up into small tribes differing from one 
another in dialect, dress, and customs. Nine of these tribes were 
enumerated in the last Government census. The tendency of the 
present time is to consider these tribes more closely related than 
was formerly the case. 

In the Census Report of the Government of India for the year 
1911 we have the first enumeration of all Karens in the British ter- 
ritory. In former reports the Karenni territory was not included 
in the enumeration. The returns in 1911 showed a population of 
1,102,695. This was an increase of 199,334 over the previous count 
in 1901, due in part to the increased extent of the territory cov- 
ered. The enumeration, however, did not clearly distinguish be- 
tween the Pwo and Sgaw branches of the race, due, as the Report 
says, to the fact that many returned themselves simply as Karens, 
without specifying to which branch they belonged. The total num- 
ber of Pwos and Sgaws increased from 717,859 souls in 1901 to 
872,825 in 1911, a gain of 154,966. This represents a real increase 
in population, for these tribes are all in Burma proper. The Pwo 
dialect is less persistent than the Sgaw, for more of its members 
are using Burmese to a much greater degree than the Sgaws, al- 
though the latter are also giving up their language where they are 
living in close contact with the Burmans. The Sgaw dialect is not 
"driving out the Pwo" as rumor says, but is merely holding its own 
better against the Burmese. Probably there are about half a mil- 
lion Sgaws in Burma and perhaps another 50,000 in Siam,^ which 
would make them the most numerous branch of the race. The 
Taungthu were enumerated by themselves and, as has been said 
above, belong to the Pwo group. There were 183,054 of them in 
1911. During the decade previous to that enumeration they had 
made an increase of 14,753 souls. The Pwo group would proba- 
bly include altogether about 350,000 members and would stand sec- 
ond in point of numbers.^ 

^ W. A. Graham, in th« Handbook of Siantf estimates the Karen of that country at 80,000, 
but I think this estimate rather low. 

* These citations are all from the Cenaua of Indith, 1911. Vol. IX, pp. 276, ff. 


The Bwe group is more definitely treated in the Censiis Report, 
for in this group each tribe is enumerated separately, as follows : 

Karenni 19,008 

Karennet 3,721 

Karenbyu 790 

Zayein 4,981 

Sinsin .-. 533 

Bre 6,911 

Mano 1,445 

Yinbaw. 911 

Padaung 8,516 

Total 46,816 

These tribes,* dwelling in the heart of the Karen country where 
they have been secure in the fastnesses of their native hills, 
have never before been counted with enough exactness to al- 
low us to estimate their increase in numbers. There is no doubt that 
the general impression that they are really increasing is correct. 
Further investigation may show that some of these tribes as, for 
example, the Zayein, may be allied to non-Karen stock, such as the 
Wa of the Shan States.^ 

These Bwe tribes form a distinct group, but it is beyond the 
purpose of this present work to deal in particular with them, espe- 
cially since they have already formed the subject of a study incor- 
porated in the Upper Burma Gazetteer,^ 

*■ Karenni means literally Red Karen, in Burmese. It has been used of the tribe dwell- 
iniT in the country now called by that name, because they wear red clothing. Similarly some 
writers have spoken of the White Karen and the Black Karen, "Karenbsru" and "Karennet." 

^ Rev. W. H. Young, formerly of Kenteung, tells me that the Wa language resembles the 
Karen in structure but not in vocabulary, while the Lahu and Pwo Karen have similar customs 
and vocabulary but a different sentence structure. 

« Vol. I, Pt I, Chapter IX. 


The traditions of the Karen clearly indicate that they have not 
always lived in their present home. The most striking story is that 
of "Htaw Meh Pa," the mjrthical founder of the Karen race, who 
lived with his numerous family in some unknown land to the North, 
where their fields were ravaged by a great boar. The patriarch 
went out and killed the boar ; but when the sons went to bring in 
the carcass, they could find only one tusk which had been broken off 
in the fray. The old man made a comb out of this, which surprised 
them all by its power of conveying eternal youth to all who used it. 
Soon their country became overpopulated, and they set out to seek 
a new and better land. They traveled together till they came to a 
river called in Karen "Hti Seh Meh Ywa." Here the old man be- 
came impatient at the long time it took the members of the family 
to cook shellfish and went on ahead, promising to blaze his path 
that they might follow him through the jungle. After a while the 
Chinese came along and told them how to open the shells to get 
out the meat; and then, having eaten, they followed the old man, 
only to find that the plantain stalks he had cut oflf had shot up so 
high that it seemed impossible to overtake him. They, therefore, 
settled down in the vicinity. The patriarch went on, taking with 
him the magic comb which has never been discovered to this day. 

While this tradition is not confined to the Karen, ^ it has a 
bearing, I believe, on their origin. A great deal has been written 
about the "Hti Seh Meh Ywa" or, as Dr. Mason called it, the "River 
of Running Sand," ^ which is, as he thinks, the Gobi Desert. 
This opinion of Dr. Mason is derived from Fa Hien's description 
of his travels across that desert. However, the Karen name of the 
river means not only "flowing sand," but also a "river of 

1 This tradition is found among the Lahu and also, according to Thra Ba Te, among the 
Chin in the northwest of Burma. 

MacMahon. in The Karens of the Golden Chersonese, p. 106, refers to a different version 
of this story, in which the Chinese go ahead instead of "Htaw Meh Pa," and on p. 104 MacMahon 
says he found traditions indicating that the Karen formed part of a Chinese expedition into 
Burma and that they were left behind because of their sluggish movements. These all point 
to early relations with the Chinese. 

' Mason, British Burma, p. 881. 


water flowing with sand." ^ The reference to the Gobi Desert 
seems rather far-fetched and has, therefore, been abandoned by 
scholars. Dr. D. C. Gilmore suggests the Salween as being a river 
that fulfils the requirements of the tradition, but bases his conclu- 
sions largely on the reference to the early home of "Htaw Meh Pa" 
as located on Mount "Thaw Thi," the Olympus of the Karen, which 
is mentioned in Dr. Vinton's version of the story, from which he 
quotes.* This reference is not found in other versions of the story 
and was probably not a part of it in its earliest form. It seems rea- 
sonable, therefore, to look further for the sandy river. Dr. Lauf er ^ 
asserts that the early home of the peoples of eastern Asia was in 
the upper reaches of the Hoang-ho or Yellow River, of China, and 
that from this center the Tibetans migrated westward; the early 
tribes of Indo-China, southward; and the Chinese, southeastward. 
According to this view, the progenitors of the Karen probably 
formed a part of the southward migration and, at some stage of 
their march, stopped on the banks of the Yellow River which, as its 
name suggests, has from time immemorial been freighted with 
silt and sand. Here they may have tried to cook the shellfish re- 
ferred to in the tradition. From this region they doubtless made 
their way down to what is now Yunnan, where perhaps they found 
a domicile till they were pushed farther south by migrating people 
advancing behind them. 

The name "Karen" is an imperfect transliteration of the Bur- 
mese word "Kayin," the derivation of which has puzzled students 
of that language. It has been thought that this word is derived from 
the name by which the Red Karen call themselves, i.e,, "Ka-Ya. 
The designation of the Sgaw for themselves is "Pgha K'Nyaw, 
which has not usually been associated with the native name of the 
Red Karen. In August, 1914, it was suggested to me ® that these 
tribal names, which have hitherto been thought to mean simply 
"men," were related to, and derived from, the name of one of the 
four ancient tribes of China, that is, the Ch'iang (ancient pro- 
nunciation, Giang or Gyang). This tribe, which is indicated in 
Chinese by the ideograph of a man combined with the character 
designating a sheep, conveying the meaning of shepherd, occupied 

■ E. B. Cross, Journal, American Orientai Soe. (1864) Vol. IV, pp. 293, fT. and D. C. 
Gilmore, Joumalt Burma Research Soc., Vol. I, p. 191. 

* J. B. Vinton, D.D. and Rev. T. Than Bya, M. A., Karen Folklore Stories. 

B Dr. B. Laufer, Curator of Anthropology, Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, in a note 
to the writer. Jan. 6, 1920. 

• By the Rev. Thra Ba Te. in a letter dated August 14, 1917. 


K Bah BOO Junole. Pegu E 


the western part of ancient China. The first part of the name, 
"Ch," means "people," and the latter part, "Yang," is the dis- 
tinctive tribal name. Turning now to the Karen word "Pgha 
K'Nyaw." "Pgha" is a general word meaning people. "K'Nyaw" 
is, according to my informant, composed of two elements: "K'," 
a prefix often found in the names of tribes in the vicinity of Burma 
and denoting a tribal group, as "Kachin," "Kethe," or "Karok" (as 
used by the Talaing of the Chinese). "Nyaw" is derived from 
"Yang," referred to above. The final nasal "ng" is softened in 
Karen to the open syllable "aw," following the analogy of many 
words occurring in the dialects or in Burmese and having nasal 
endings; and "n" and "ny" are interchangeable. Thus, if this 
reasoning is correct, "Pgha K'Nyaw" is derived from the ancient 
"Yang," and is like the source from which the Burmese "Kayin" is 
derived.^ This explanation affords another link connecting the 
Karen with the early dwellers within the confines of the present 
Chinese Republic. 

The language of the Karen, after being classed in various 
ways, has now been recognized as a Sinitic language and, accord- 
ing to the last Burma Census (1911) is set down as belonging 
to the "Siamese-Chinese" sub-family of the Tibeto-Chinese lan- 
guages, being grouped with the Tai or Shan. I feel sure that this 
last grouping is subject to revision by the philologists. While at 
first glance the relationship of these languages appears to be re- 
mote, Major H. R. Davies makes a very pertinent statement when 
he says : "Doubtless owing to phonetic change and the splitting of 
initial double consonants, many words have been altered beyond all 
hope of recognition, but a systematic study of the subject would, I 
believe, reveal many unsuspected resemblances." ^ 

When we consider that many of these languages have never 
been fixed by written characters and that, within the past few dec- 
ades, the Karen language has so changed that the bard literature 
of a century ago is almost unintelligible to the present generation, 
we can see how complicated the problem is and that it is only capa- 
ble of solution, if at all, at the hands of experts. 

The Karen language, as we now have it, is a monosyllabic ag- 
glutinated speech, with no final consonants in Sgaw Karen and with 
nasals and finals in other dialects. These are all marks of Sinitic 

"^ Dr. Martin in the Lore of Cathay srives the names of the other three of the four 
ancient tribes of China as the La in the North, the Yi in the East, and the Man in the South. 
* Maj. H. R. Davies, Yunnan, The Link between Burma and the Yangste. 


speech. Dr. D. C. Gilmore believes that the Pwo dialect branched 
off from the parent stem earlier than the Sgaw, but kept the 
original nasals and, being in closer contact with outside races» 
adopted more outside words.® The Sgaw has dropped the final 
nasals, because they were more difficult to pronounce, but has kept 
the original form of the language to a greater extent than the Pwo. 

The fact that the Karen have used bronze drums for many 
generations has, I think, a bearing on their racial relationship. 
These remarkable drums have only recently been studied by West- 
ern scholars, and their full significance is still a matter for investi- 
gation. These drums were formerly thought to be of Chinese origin, 
but it seems that they are to be attributed to aboriginal tribes, 
found in what is now Tong King and Yunnan by the Chinese gen- 
erals. Ma Yuon (41, A.D.) and Chu-Ko Liang (230, A.D.), who 
conquered these territories for the Chinese.^® 

The upper portion of Camboja is now considered to be the 
original home of these drums. They formed part of the possessions 
of the chiefs and were considered very precious, each being worth 
from eight to ten oxen. Chu-ko Liang is reported to have exacted 
sixty-three bronze drums as tribute from the barbarians and to 
have taken them back with him. Among the peoples of Burma the 
Karen seem to be the only race that has made use of these drums. 
They do not manufacture them, but buy them from the more in- 
dustrious Shans, who do not appear to set much store by them.^^ 
Among the Karen, until recent times, the owner of one of these 
instruments was considered of more worth than a man who had 
seven elephants. A drum often formed the ransom of a village or 
the dowry of a maiden. Although so valued a possession often be- 
longs to a chief, it may belong to any one who can purchase it. 

It may have been from the Karen that the Chinese generals 
exacted part or all of their tribute. If so, this people was living in 
the mountains of Yunnan at the beginning of the Christian era. 

* D. C. Gilmoret "Phonetic Changes in the Karen Languages" in Journal, Burma Research 
Society, Vol. VIII, Pt. ii. pp. 122, ff. 

^^ Several pamphlets and articles in anthropological journals deal with these drums. The 
most extensive work on the subject, which is in German, is by Franz Heger and is entitled 
Alte MetaUtrommeln aus Sudost-Asien, Leipzig 1902. An excellent short work entitled "Anciens 
Tambours de Bronze," is by H. Parmentier and is printed in the Bulletin VEcole d* Extreme' 
Orient, Hanoi, 118. Se? also Chapter XIII on Bronze Drums, pp. 116-126. 

^^ W. W. Cochrane, in The Shans, mentions the Shan towns of Tagaung or Ta Kawng 
and Mbgaung or Mong Kawg as denoting, respectively. Drum Ferry and Drum Town, and on 
page 62 he says : "They took also a palace drum, whose reverberations could call the people 
together, daunt enemies, or brins rain in time of drought." He makes no further reference 
to their use. 


It is a belief of the Karen that their forefathers have cherished these 
drums from time immemorial. One drum in Toungoo district is, I 
have been told, supposed to be a thousand years old. Our knowl- 
edge of them is, however, too meagre to permit any dogmatic state- 
ments on the subject. Further investigation should throw more 
light upon it. 

The religious traditions of the Karen have also been thought 
to possess significance in regard to their racial origin. When, in 
1827, the early missionaries first discovered the Karen, they were 
surprised to find that these people professed having received from 
their forefathers monotheistic traditions in which the story of the 
creation was almost parallel to the Mosaic account in Genesis. (See 
p. 211.) The question, "Whence this story?" at once suggested 
ftself . Was it their independent possession from the beginning of 
time, their only relic from a more vigorous and highly civilized 
past when, as they explained, they had not yet lost their book?^^ 
Or had it been borrowed from another people, whom they had met 
in the course of their wanderings from their northern birthplace 
to their present home? Some of the early missionaries, including 
Dr. Mason, thought that the Karen might be found to be the lost 
tribes of Israel ^* or, if not actually descended from Abraham, that 
they had received instruction from colonies of Jews, who were sup- 
posed to have spread to the East in ancient times. 

It has also been suggested that Christian missionaries, traveling 
to the Orient during the early centuries of our era, transmitted this 
creation story to the Karen. On this point the comment of Dr. Lau- 
fer is pertinent." He says: "The 'River of running sand' in the 
traditions of the Karen is not necessarily to be interpreted as the 
Desert of Gobi ; at least it is not convincing. Still less is it conceiv- 
able that their legends should suggest an acquaintance with the 
Jewish colonies in China, or even with the Nestorian tablet at 

^^ The tradition of the Lost Book is not peculiar to the Karen, but seems to be found also 
among other tribes in and about Burma, e. g., the Kaws, Was, Palaungs, and the Hkamoks of 
Siam : letter of Mr. Taw Sein Ko to Thra Ba Te, dated 10th Oct.. 1917. 

^* In a letter to the Baptist Missionary Society, dated Oct., 1882, Dr. Mason mentions 
hearing of the shipwreck on the Tenasserim River some decades before of a foreign merchant 
who told the Karen that other white men would come and teach them about God. He 
adds that he thought that the traditions came from Portuguese priests who had earlier come to 
the East. But in a later letter, dated Oct., 1884, Dr. Mason writes that he had come to believe 
that the traditions were indigenous with the Karen, whom he thought to be the lost Hebrew 
tribes. He wrote a communication to the Government to that effect from the "Headquarters of 
the Tenasserim," dated Dec. 6, 1833. (See Missionary Magazine, Dec., 1833. p. 469, and Oct. 
1884, p. 382). 

1* See Journal, American Folklore, Vol. XXXI, No. CXX, pp. 282. ff. for his review of Sir 
J. G. Scott's Indo-Chinese Mythology, in Mythology of All Races, Vol. XII. 


Sin-gan-fu. The small number of Jewish immigrants into China, 
who were chiefly settled at K'ai-fong in Ho-nan, have never been 
able to exert the slightest influence on their surroundings, but, on 
the contrary, have been so completely sinsized that they are now 
almost extinct. Nestorianism left no trace on the thought of Chi- 
nese society. The inscription in question is written in such an ex- 
alted and highly literary style that it is quite unintelligible to the 
people and its technical terminology is a complete mystery to the 
present scholars of China. No popular influence can be attributed 
to such a monument." It appears that the number and antiquity of 
early Jewish immigrants into China have been much overestimated 
by many writers, so that, if present scholarship is correct, this 
source from which the Karen could have obtained their tradition has 
practically been eliminated.^^ 

Though there seems to be little ground left for connecting the 
Karen story of the creation with either the Jewish or Nestorian 
colonies of China, there are one or two points that might be borne 
in mind in regard thereto. The story is universally known among 
the Karen tribes and most fully among the Red Karen, who have 
been least affected by outside influences in recent times. It contains 
no reference to the life or teachings of Christ or to any real 
Messianic hope, but suggests only Old Testament material, such as 
the creation, fall, flood, and tower of Babel, besides containing 
the Red Karen genealogy. Hence, it would seem that we can hardly 
attribute the story to the Portuguese missionaries, who were not in 
Burma until the sixteenth century or later. It would rather point 
to an earlier Jewish source, from which the story came back in the 
days when the tribes were less divided than they were later. For if 
Christian teachers had taught the Karen, would they not have made 
a deeper impression with their story of salvation than with the less 
significant one of creation ? 

Some writers have asserted that the original religion of China 
was a sort of monotheism, in which one god, the Emperor of 
Heaven, was somewhat akin to the Jehovah of the Hebrews, 
though not worshiped to the exclusion of all other deities. There 

^" See alBO China and Religion by E. G. Parker, who Bays (page 108) that there is no 
mention of any Western religion in China up to the end of the sixth century, A. D.. when 
Christianity entered the country, except Buddhism which had come in centuries before. On pace 
165 he Rives the date of the arrival of the Jewish colonies in China as 1163, A. D. The article 
on China in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Brittaniea also bears out this testimony. 


is a bare possibility that the Karen tradition might have some rela- 
tion to such an ancient belief.^* 

However, the story of the creation among these people has 
such a marked parallelism with the Hebrew story that, even though 
its origin has not been traced, we find it difficult to avoid the suspi- 
cion that it came from an Hebraic source, being carried by some 
wandering story-teller or unknown missionary only to become in- 
corporated into the tribal belief of the Karen, along with their own 
primitive mythology. 

The hilly province of Yunnan in southwestern China, with 
its great mixture of races, answers the description of an ancient 
reservoir of fugitives and migrating groups from both India and 
China. In the marauding expeditions and massacres taking place 
among the contending elements in such a "melting pot," the oriental 
conquerors showed mercy only to the women among the foe and 
made wives of them. On the assumption or theory that the Karen 
spent a part of their migratory period in Yunnan, they may have 
preserved a greater degree of racial purity by their practice of 
strict endogamy and their custom of retreating to mountain fast- 

From Yunnan the route that was probably followed by the 
Karen was by way of the Mekong or Salween into the upper part 
of what is now the Shan States. Thence they spread southward 
over what is now Karenni and then on to Lower Burma and 

We are unable to determine when these migrations took place, 
or when the Karen entered Burma. If it could be shown that the 
ancestors of the Karen were among those from whom the drum 
tribute was exacted by the Chinese generals, we should know that 
they were dwellers in Yunnan at the beginning of the Christian era. 

Dr. Mason notes a tradition that a Karen chief went to the site 
of Laboung, intending to bring his people to settle there, but that 
when he returned with his followers the Shan had already occupied 
the location. The founding of Laboung has been fixed at 574 A.D. 
This comes the nearest to being a definite landmark in the south- 

^" John Ross, in The Original Religion of China, makes this the subject of an interesting 
volume. Also E. H. Parker, in China and Religion, srives a few hints that may show that the 
earliest ancestors of the Chinese held one god in much greater esteem than the other beings in 
their mythology. 

^^ Sir J. G. Scott, Introduction to Indo-Chinese Mythology, Mythology of aU Races, p. 258. 

^" C. C. Lowis on Burma, Ethnological Survey of India, (1910) p. 16. 


ward migration of the Karen people. The vicinity of laboung was 
probably the stopping-place on their long journey,'" 

Mr. J. O'Riley, one of the earliest English officers to travel in 
the Karenni, writes that he found traditions indicating that the 

Karkn Hiu, Men Cohino Down to the Plains 

country around Pagan was one of the early homes of the Karen 
and that they were driven southwest from there, while the Chinese 
who were with them were driven back to their own country, and the 
Kollahs (foreigners), northward. The Karen then appear to have 
gone to the Shan country, Hyoung Yuay, and thence to have been 
driven to the Myobyay province. Here, according to tradition, they 
were again attacked and, having in time greatly increased in num- 
bers, they turned against the Shan, expelled them, and occupied 
the present Red Karen country.'" 

The fact that the Karen are found farther south than the Shan 
also argues that they migrated earlier and were perhaps pushed 
on by the latter, who in turn may have given way before a more 
powerful force at their heels. O'Riley learned of a tradition of the 
Red Karen which suggested that they had lived ten generations in 
their present home." This would limit their sojourn here to a 

i> Lt. Col. A. R. HuUahon, Tht Karcni nt (Ac Coldin C^rioneiB, p. lU. 


period of less than three hundred years. This is doubtless much 
too low an estimate, unless it refers to the time of their domicile 
in the particular district now occupied. 

In so far as we may venture a conclusion, it is that the Karen 
migrated into Burma, coming from the ancient home of the early 
tribes inhabiting the country of China, with whom they are re- 
lated by tribal, linguistic, and possibly religious ties, the full sig- 
nificance of which are yet to be determined. 

Note. Various Theories of the Ori^n and Tribal Relationships of the 
Karen. — From the middle of the nineteenth century many theories regarding 
the origin and racial affinity of the Karen have been propounded by writers 
on Burma. J. R. Logan, writing in 1850 in the Journal of the Indian Archipel- 
ago (Vol. IV, p. 478) connects this people with the tribes in the highlands of 
the Kolan and Irrawaddy and in the lower bend of the Brahmaputra. Writing 
again in the same Journal in 1858 (New Series, Vol. II, p. 387) Logan main- 
tains that the Karen language is a dialect of the Irrawaddo-Brahmaputran 
dialect, affected by Chinese influence as it came south. Professor De Lacou- 
perie in his introduction to Colquhoun's Amongst the Shana (pp. xxxviii, ff.) 
argues that the Karen are descended from the ancient Tek or Tok tribes of 
central Asia. Early missionaries and other writers, including Denniker. 
(Races of Man^ p. 395) believed that the Kachin and Chin formed a branch of 
the Karen race. The Archaeological Survey of Burma has linked the Karen 
both with the ancient Kanran, one of the three primitive tribes mentioned in 
Burmese annals, and with the Miao and Yao of Yunnan {Report of 1916). 
But the Kanran were driven southwestward from the region around Prome 
and seem to have disappeared from history. (Phayre, History of Burma, pp. 
5-19.) The linguistic differences between the Miao, Yao, and Karen have led to 
the abandonment of the idea that they are closely related. In fact, all of these 
views have been given up, because they were based on an inadequate knowl- 
edge of the tribes concerned. 

Dr. Mason, in the Journal, Asiatic Soc. of Bengal (Vol. XXXVII, p. 162, 
1868,) says that the first historical notice of the Karen is in Marco Polo's 
travels in the 13th Century. He quotes Malte Brun on the basis of Marco 
Polo's travels, as follows : " 'This country of Caride is the southeastern point of 
Tibet, and perhaps the country of the nation of the Cariaines ; which is spread 
over Ava.' This statement is confirmed by old Bghai poetry in which we find in- 
cidentally mentioned the town of Bhamo to which they formerly were in the 
habit of going to buy axes and bills or cleavers, as they do now at Toungoo. 
When this poetry was composed they lived five hundred miles north of their 
present locality." These geographical allusions seem so vague that it appears 
to be impossible to build much of a theory upon them. Perhaps the lines refer- 
ring to Bhamo may refer to a trading expedition and not to a line of mi- 
gration. And the statement of Malte Brun is only conjecture at the most. 

In their excellent work on The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Hose and Mc- 

2® J. O'Riley, Journal, Indian Archipelago, Vol. IV, N.S. (1859), p. 8. 
" Ibid. 


Dougall say that "of all the tribes of the southwestern corner of the con- 
tinent, the one which seems to us moat closely akin to the Kayans [of Borneo] 
is that which comprises the several tribes of the Karen." (Vol. II, p. 235). 

The similarity in culture and physical characteristics of the Kayan and 
Karen with some of the tribes of the Philippine Islands, e. g., the Davao and 
Tin^ian tribes, or between the Karen and certain of the Malays, is strong. 
The similarity of the name "Kayan" with that fay which the Karen are known 
to the Burmans is also striking; but it seems fairly clear that if this accidental 
aimtlarity of name did not exist, the Kayans would not have been considered 
closer than the Dyaks in kinship to the Karen. Dr. J. H. Vinton, who has had 
a life-long acquaintance with the Karen, thinks that they are resembled more 
by the Dyaks than by the Kayans. He expressed this view after a recent tour 
through Borneo. These similarities suggest that most of these tribes are not 
far removed from one another, and that they ail belong to the Indo-Chinese 
stock, which, in turn, resembles the South China type, due no doubt to a 
ancestry in the remote past. 

KuiEH Uen from tub H11J.B. Thauawaddv District 
Dnd Din tram the left ii > vlllaae chief or headman. The four 
[■ ■ plaiiuDun. who ii the teaeber in Pankabln Village 


The Karen are of medium height. On the plains they average 
about five feet, four inches, in stature, and in the hills they are about 
three inches shorter. The women are smaller than the men.^ The 
hill people have the harder struggle for a livelihood and are also 
more liable to attacks of malaria. The Brecs show evident signs of 
stunted growth. On the plains and in the more fertile lower hills 
we find that the Karen are a stocky race with broad, well-built 
bodies, strong legs, and well-rounded calves. The legs are often 
short in proportion to the body. Karen players on a football team 
are usually noticeable for their sturdy appearance, in contrast with 
the slimmer BUrman boys. They are capable of considerable physi- 
cal exertion, but soon tire. The women are well formed and buxom. 
They have an erect carriage, being used to bearing heavy burdens 
on their heads or backs. Their teeth, like the men's, are stained 
with continual betel chewing. In the hills their lack of bathing and 
their accumulations of beads and charms detract from their ap- 
pearance ; but when they have taken on more cleanly ways they be- 
come not unattractive. Their youth is cut short by heavy work in 
the field, constant childbearing, and nursing, and soon the signs of 
age appear. 

The color of the Karen varies all the way from a light olive 
complexion to a dark coffee brown. On the whole, their color could 
be said to range between that of the Burmans and the Chinese. 
Those who work indoors are, of course, lighter than those who 
work in the open. Many skins have a distinctly yellowish or red- 

^ I took a few measurements with the tape line, and found that about seventy men on the 
plains gave the above average. The tallest was five feet, nine inches, and the shortest was four 
feet, eleven inches. In the hills my measurments were confined to one village. Here the headman 
was the tallest, measuring five feet, six inches. The shortest man in the village was four feet 
and eleven inches in height. Of about twenty women measured the tallest was five feet, five 
inches, and the shortest, four feet, nine inches. Three were each four feet, ten inches. The 
average among the women was a very small fraction over five feet. Dr. Mason gives the short- 
est man, a Bghai chief, as being only four feet, eight inches high, while the shortest woman he 
measured was four feet, five inches tall. (Jour., Asiatic Soe. of Bengal^ Vol. XXXV, p. 7.) 
MacMahon notes that in the Red Karen country the women are usually as tall as, if not taller 
than, the men. (The Karens of the Golden Cheraoneset p. 66.) 



Profile View 

t With Tiaces d 


dish tinge. Infants are often almost as white as European children. 
Red cheeks are not infrequently found in the Toungoo hills.^ 

Though we often find considerable individuality in the facial 
features of the Karen, they conform more or less to type, which 
consists of the broad flat face of the Mongolian races with high 
cheek-bones and widely set eyes. The eyes have narrow palpebral 
openings, sometimes slanted, and the characteristic fold at the 
nasal end. The nose is broad and flat without much of a bridge. 
The plane of the nostrils is tilted upward, so that the septum and 
nostrils are quite noticeable. The mouth is usually well shaped, but 
a few individuals have thick lips and a heavy negroid mouth. The 
teeth are quite regular and, when not stained with betel, are white 
and shining. 

In the Pegu Hills, in the village of Ngepe, I found a family that 
had decidedly negroid features. (See cuts on p. 17.) The contrast 
with the rest of the villagers was marked. Although I could get no 
hint of a different ancestry in the case of the exceptional family 
from that of the rest of the people, it was obvious that an admix- 
ture of Negrito blood must have taken place somewhere. 

The hair of the Karen is generally black, straight, and coarse. 
Once in a while wavy hair is found, and in rare cases it seems to 
be almost as kinky as that of the African. Wavy hair is not ad- 
mired, but, on the contrary, is much disliked. The Karen have an 
abundance of hair on the scalp. It often reaches to the waist, and 
I have noticed a few instances in which it reached to the ground. 
In the early days the custom was for both sexes to wear the hair 
long, but now the men usually wear theirs short. 

The men have scant beards which are seldom allowed to grow, 
being pulled out with tweezers. The mustache is prized and is 
coaxed to become as luxuriant as possible. In the few cases where 
the beard is allowed to grow, it resembles the beards of Chinese 
men. However, I know a Karen teacher in Bassein who has a beard 
that would please any inhabitant of Russia. A mole with a few 
hairs growing from it is greatly treasured, the hairs being allowed 
to grow as long as they will. Hair on the body and chest of the 

- According to Breca's plates for claasifying the color of the skin I found, in examining 
about ninety persons, that twenty-flve matched No. 80 of his series ; nineteen. No. 26 : fifteen. No. 
44; eight. No. 26; five each, Nos. 29 and 45: three each, Nos. 24 and 81; two, No. 21, and one 
each, Nos. 37. 40, 47. and 58. The lightest color found was No. 24. One of the fair ones 
was an infant, and the other two were men, namely, a clerk and a hill boy. The darkest com- 
plexion corresponded to No. 87, of which I found but one. No. 29, which was the color of five 
of the subjects examined, is a much redder hue than No. 87. All determinations of color were 
made on unexposed parts of the body where the skin had not been tanned by sunlight. 


men is rare. I can recall only one man who had a hairy chest. 
There is nothing unusual about the eyebrows. 

The Karen seem to be susceptible to all the diseases prevalent 
in the country. Children are seen more often than not with dis- 
tended bowels, due to worms. Enlarged spleen is the rule in the 
hills, where malaria is so prevalent. A number of cases in which a 
low vitality has caused ulcers to break out and involve the entire 
system have come under my notice. Epidemics of measles are 
much feared, due to complications induced by bathing soon after the 
rash has disappeared, the bathing being thought necessary. Small- 
pox does not cause much apprehension. The bubonic plague has 
never claimed many Karen victims, but the influenza was terribly 
fatal during the cool season of 1918-19. Tuberculosis is one of the 
many diseases from the West that is claiming its victims among the 
Karen people. Though their open-air life safeguards them some- 
what, their fear of demons causes them to cover their heads at 
night, and they breathe only through their blankets. Those who 
live in the better built houses on the plains also deprive themselves 
of fresh air by retiring into the close inner room of their homes in 
order to avoid the smell of cooking, which they fear. Such super- 
stitious practices furnish ideal breeding-places for germs. The un- 
balanced diet of the Karen also restricts their disease-resisting 
powers. One hopes that, with improved ideas on sanitation and 
hygiene, the people of this race will not only be relieved from the 
present high rate of infant mortality, but also that those surviving 
may attain greater longevity. 

The presence of certain birth-marks on the children of Mongo- 
lian parents has been thought by some scientists to be an important 
criterion for distinguishing members of that race.' The Karen in- 
fants certainly have these blue patches on the back and buttocks. 
Sometimes they are so indistinct as to be hardly noticeable, 
and again they are clear and bright. They are irregular in shape 
and size. My observations confirm the accuracy of the census re- 
turns, namely, that about seven out of ten children have these marks 
at birth. They usually disappear by the time a child is a year old. 
The Karen explanation for them is that they are the stains of leaves, 
on which the spirits of the children sat or laid down to rest in the 
course of their long and wearisome journey from their former 
abode. These marks are thought to show that the children having 

* The Indian Imperial Census, 1911, Burma. Pt. I, 281-286. 









them will be strong, and mothers are glad to see them on their off- 
spring. Perhaps they reason that if the baby spirit was able to 
stand the long journey necessary to come to the birth, it will en- 
dure the longer journey of this human existence. 

I have noticed a few cases of homosexuals among the Karen, 
though they do not seem to be as common as among the Burmese. 
These individuals, who assume more or less the dress and customs 
of the opposite sex, have been known to contract unions with others 
of the same sex and live as husband and wife. The cases I found 
have all been on the plains. 




The Karen draws the blinds over the windows of his heart and 
leaves one to wonder what goes on within. I once asked an educated 
Karen what he thought was the chief characteristic of his race, and 
he immediately replied that they are a people who can be afraid. 
Centuries of subjugation and oppression have filled them with fear. 
During the protracted period of their tribulations, to be caught 
by a Burman was to be stripped of everything, even of one's cloth- 
ing, and to be beaten into the bargain. Where only a few families 
lived on the plains, the women with child dared not undergo confine- 
ment in their houses, lest they could not escape from a sudden 
attack by their oppressors. Karen cartmen still drive around 
a village rather than through it, although they know there is little 
danger of having dogs set on them, as there used to be. Not only 
does the Karen fear his fellow-men, but he is also terrified by the 
strange and weird beings, demons and ghosts, with which his imag- 
ination and credulity people the world. Should he, even by chance, 
offend any of these — and it is easily done he thinks — he must live 
in dread of their vengeance. His religion is one of fear, precaution, 
and propitiatory sacrifice. The trepidations of the past have been 
perpetuated through generations and, though education has stifled 
them in a measure, they still crop out on occasion even in the most 
advanced members of the race. 

The Karen is led into all sorts of difficulties by his timidity. 
He is apprehensive and desirous of avoiding trouble with officers 
or others. When brought into court to answer questions, often this 
fear will lead him to deny any knowledge of the facts, instead of re- 
lating what he has seen; or he may acknowledge the opposite of 
what he wants to prove. Not long ago I heard of a man who had 
what seemed to be a good case, but on the witness-stand he swore 
to the opposite of what he had told previously. When asked why 
he did so, he replied that he was so scared that he did not know what 
he was saying. In thus yielding to his timidity the Karen often in- 



volves himself in serious difficulty, for his mistakes are easily 

Shyness, caution, and concealment are fruits of this trait of 
fear. I have often heard a veteran school-teacher remark that the 
Karen never puts his best foot foremost. In the past it was not 
safe for him to do so. Concealment was one of his natural means 
of protection. To show signs of prosperity or admit having posses- 
sions was only tempting his more powerful neighbors to come and 
dispossess him. I know of recent instances of persecution of one sort 
or another being visited upon certain Karen villages on account 
of their prosperous condition. In the days of the Ancient Regime 
the French peasantry simulated poverty, in order to protect their 
property from the tax-collector. The Karen has been preyed upon 
in various ways in earlier and later times, and in his fear and 
helplessness he has resorted to the method of the European peasant. 
Shyness and caution are marked traits of the Karen women even 
more than of the men. Indeed, I have seen all the inhabitants 
of a village run to the jungle when I came in sight. A group of 
girls out gathering firewood dropped their faggots and disappeared 
as fast as possible at the approach of my party along the path. In 
their attempts to hide their shyness, schoolgirls often succeed in 
attracting the attention they are trying to avoid. 

A leading authority on Burma has said that the Karen are 
"absolutely devoid of humor." ^ Having had years of experience as 
a missionary among these people, I may be allowed to differ from 
the opinion just quoted. The authority referred to was a high Gov- 
ernment official, and I am quite sure that no Karen would be so 
self -forgetful as to risk offending the dignity of such a personage. 
One who has entered into intimate association with these people, 
has been entertained in their houses, and has sat beside their fire- 
places will testify to their love of fun and their jolly laughter. For 
myself I ask for no lighter-hearted companions than those with 
whom I have traveled over the plains and hills, and whom I have 
met in distant villages. They are keen enough to see the humor in 
some of their folklore tales, in embarrassing situations, and in the 
little mishaps of daily life, and to laugh heartily when these are 
told. They are also capable of enjoying practical jokes. This is 
illustrated by the instance of a young man who by mistake shot 
a vulture, as it flew up out of the bushes, and decided to serve the 

1 Sir J. G. Scott, Burma, A Handbook, p. 120. 


gathered to watch the toreiener have a 


breast of the great bird, cooked with curry well spiced, to some of 
his chums. The flesh of the creature proved to be both tough and 
strong, and when one of the guests left the group to wash out his 
mouth, the host beat a hasty retreat. The other villagers, who 
promptly heard of the unpalatable feast, amused themselves by 
asking the guests how they enjoyed it. 

The Karen are accustomed to say of themselves that "they put 
a thing in the heart." They mean by this that they hold their peace, 
but do not forget slights, grudges, disagreeable requests, and the 
like. If a ICaren is asked to do something he does not want to do, 
he may reply with a grunt suggesting an assent, but does not com- 
ply with the request and fails to put in an appearance again soon. 
He does not refuse at the time, fearing to cause trouble. In the 
same way a slight or an insult is "put in the heart" without retort 
or demonstration of anger. He dissimulates and waits for his re- 
venge. Before the British established orderly government in the 
country, many a raid was executed to pay off a grudge or an insult 
cherished in the heart. For the man of little or no influence in his 
village there was a secret method of vengeance, namely, by resorting 
to magic or to poison. It was the fear of this vengeful trait in the 
Karen that for years prevented the Burman subordinate officials 
from crossing Thaukgeyat Creek into the Toungoo Hills. 

The repudiation of a friend is not unknown among the Karen, 
but such conduct is rare. In general, they are cautious in entering 
into friendships, but, having done so, are faithful and sincere to 
those whose confidence they accept in exchange for their own. 
Blood-brotherhood is a recognized institution among them, having 
been much more prevalent in the past than at present ; and the bond 
signified by it in most of the Karen tribes was stronger than the 
ties of family. Westerners make friends more quickly than the 
ICaren, but Western haste and impatience are not winsome qualities 
to the latter. 

It has been said that the Karens are stubborn. They do not 
reach quick decisions in regard to matters novel to them and can 
not be forced to do so. But if given time to consider after a full 
explanation, they are pretty sure to return later and offer 
their reasons for not consenting to the proposition ; and if allowed 
to talk the matter out, their objections being answered and time 
given for their consideration, they will most likely be persuaded. 
When thus convinced, their loyal cooperation may generally be de- 


pended on. I have known not a few Government officials who, by 
such methods, have won the confidence and earnest support of the 
people with whom they were dealing. It is unfortunate, however, 
that the number of such officers is not larger. While the Karen have 
not always been treated with proper consideration and have some- 
times failed to understand the aims and methods of the British 
Government, they are deeply attached to it. 

It is true that the Karen are not as quick-witted as some of the 
other races of the Orient. Nevertheless, they are in some respects 
out-distancing their more facile neighbors. They excel in the rou- 
tine of their daily tasks. This is observable in the schools, where 
the Karen boys usually take the lead in the daily recitations, but 
make a poorer showing in the written and oral examinations. Sev- 
eral Government officers have spoken in high terms of their Karen 
flerks, commending their faithfulness and honesty. Not infre- 
quently it happens that such a faithful worker finds that some 
astute associate has gained the credit and reward that should have 
been his. The Karen are not blind to disappointments of this sort, 
as the following fable shows : A man, about to leave home, ordered 
his pig and dog to prepare a plot of ground for planting as a gar- 
den. The pig was industrious and rooted until he had all but fin- 
ished turning over the plot, while the dog spent his time lying under 
a tree. Late in the afternoon, before the master's return, the dog 
jumped up and scratched about here and there in the soft earth. 
When he heard his master coming, he ran barking down the path to 
meet him and told him that the pig had been working but a short 
time, while he had been digging all day. The faithful pig, mean- 
while, was so busy rooting in the farthest comer of the lot, try- 
ing to finish before his owner's return, that he knew nothing of 
what was going on. The credulous man believed the dog's deceitful 
words, killed the pig, and only discovered his mistake when it was 
too late. This fable is epitomized in the proverb, "The dog 
scratches in the pig's place." For many a Karen this is all too true. 

Early writers speak of the peaceableness, honesty, and good- 
ness of the Karen.2 There are, of course, in every nation those who 
belie any statement concerning the people as a whole. However, I 
have no hesitation in saying that deceit and trickery are not common 
among the Karen. I have been told by peddlers and others, who 
often have to carry valuable goods and money into the jungle, that 

^Sansrermano. Description of the Burmeae Empire, 178S-1808, (Rangoon, 1885) p. 86; 
Maj. Snodsrrass, The Narrative of the Burmese War^ (London, 1827) Vol. I, p. 142. 


they prefer to spend their nights in Karen villages and do so when- 
ever possible. In the Karen hills the paddy-bins, in which is stored 
the year's supply of rice, are situated far away from the village 
along the jungle paths. It is almost unknown for grain to be stolen 
from them. Among some of the tribes east of Toungoo stealing 
was punished, until recently, by death. Dr. Mason says that he has 
never found a Karen who would not lie, if it was to his advantage 
to do so. This does not agree with my experience. 

In various respects, certainly, Karen conduct differs from Eu- 
ropean conduct. To expect the same standards would be unrea- 
sonable. Any fair estimate of the Karen, as of any other primitive 
people, must take into account the fact that morality with them is 
group conduct. The behavior of the individual must be regarded 
in the light of the life and customs of the group to which he be- 
longs. If the actions of the people, considered thus in relation to 
their own social status, appear capable of betterment, efforts 
should be put forth to lead the primitive folk to the higher level. 

The Karen possess intellectual capacity commensurate with 
that of other races of Burma. Being subject people in the country, 
their ancestors were precluded from independent thought and ac- 
tion in essential matters. With the advent of education a sufficient 
number of the young men and women, though the proportion of the 
latter is small, has taken collegiate courses with credit to show 
that they are not inferior to others. The same may be said of many 
who have won success in practical lines of work. I could name sev- 
eral Karens occupying positions of responsibility that require high 
mental attainments, who are demonstrating that they are not lack- 
ing therein. 

The old practice of village communities in exiling widows and 
orphans to the jungle, and the occasional abandonment of little 
children by their parents who were attempting to escape from 
raiders are, happily, things of the past. Fear, the instinct of self- 
preservation, and superstition serve to explain such phenomena, 
which must not be taken as indicating that the Karen are lacking 
in love for children or in humane sentiments. Nowadays orphans 
find a home without difficulty ; widows and aged persons are cared 
for; parents enjoy their firesides and manifest love for their off- 
spring, with whom they are, in fact, too indulgent, even to their 
hurt ; and young men and women are not above giving tender care 
to some little niece or nephew. 


A Paku School Ciu. Tounooo 


The Karen have been addicted to the use of liquor. Their 
feasts and religious observances have been occasions for drinking. 
It is reported that the Brecs are accustomed to store their grain in 
two bins, one (often the larger one) for that of which liquor is to 
be made, and the other for that which is to be used as food. On the 
plains I have not found the Karen greater drinkers than their 
neighbors. With the decay of the old rites and the spread of Chris- 
tianity the evil seems to be on the decline. Among the members 
of the Baptist churches, however it may be in the other denomina- 
tions, total abstinence is enjoined. 

The Karen are lovers of music. In the early days they accom- 
panied the chanting of their poems on their primitive harps and 
other instruments. The people of the Pegu Yomas, Tenasserim, in 
the delta of the Irrawaddy, have interesting tunes, which have been 
in use from the olden times. In other districts they have contented 
themselves with the r3rthm of chanting and moaning, melodies be- 
ing conspicuous by their absence. The Maw Lay and other religious 
sects have had their own songs, which may be said to correspond 
to Christian hymns. With the introduction of Christianity came 
the music of the Western hymn-book, and to this the Karen have 
taken with their whole hearts. They love to sing and do not grow 
weary of it, however late the hour. Occidental music has taken 
such a hold on those who have become Christians that they have al- 
most entirely given up their native music. A few hymns are some- 
times sung to adaptations of their old tunes ; but they prefer the 
Western melodies, and few of the young people know any other. 
They learn the new tunes readily and are able to sing glees and 
anthems by ear after a moderate amount of practice. Their voices 
are much softer than those of the Burmese and blend well in 
choruses. Some of the young women have very sweet voices, which 
seldom become harsh and rasping. While traveling in the hill coun- 
try I was delighted one evening with the sweet voice of a young 
woman, which came floating up from the stream where she was 
drawing water. She was singing an old "hta" or poem, while I 
listened unobserved behind a clump of bamboos. No sooner did I 
step into the open than she ceased, and I could not persuade her to 
continue the song. 

One discovers but few indications of a love of beauty among 
the Karen. They make little attempt to ornament their houses or 
their implements, so that the evidence of their possessing a sense 


of color and design is practically limited to the woven patterns of 
some of their garments. They have only a scant vocabulary for 
colors. I have seldom heard them remark on the beauty of a sunset 
or the glories of a sunrise. Sometimes they have called attention 
to a pleasing landscape, but I have wondered whether they were 
not doing so because they knew of my pleasure in such scenes. 

The Karen is a plebeian. His manners at home are crude, al- 
though he is not without a certain personal dignity. His shy- 
ness in the presence of strangers, especially of those whom he 
fears, causes him embarrassment. Under such circumstances he 
often impresses one as being impolite. He is not servile. It has* 
never been his custom to "shiko".^ The greatest chief is a comrade 
among his men, who do not yield their self-respect in his presence. 
Nevertheless, the inherent timidity of the race shows itself in the 
avoidance of making a request in person. A request may expose 
the one making it to the chagrin of a refusal and the one addressed 
to the unpleasant necessity of giving an adverse answer. The Karen, 
therefore, gets a friend to act as his intermediary. Even a boy who 
wants to buy a book will have his classmate get it for him. 

Amiability is another marked trait of the Karen, both of the 
educated and the uneducated, rendering them acceptable in many 
kinds of service. Young Karen women are in demand as nurse- 
maids all over Burma, and not a few have gone temporarily to 
England and America in that capacity. They are kind, patient, and 
faithful in their care of the children entrusted to their care. 

The remarkable chastity of the Karen is also worthy of notice. 
It has, however, been mentioned in several places in this work 
and perhaps need not be discussed further in this connection, except 
to say that the fear of the evil consequences of violating the laws 
of the elders has kept them free from many unhealthy customs 
that are found in many parts of the world.* 

* "Shiko" is a Burmese word sifirnifyinsr the act of worship, or of showinsr respect to 

* See pasres 139, 142. 192, 288. 


In Chapter I I referred briefly to the relationship of the Karen 
dialects to the other langfuagres of Burma and noted the bearing: of 
that subject upon the question of the origin of the people. I 
adopted the grouping suggested in the last Burma Census (that 
of 1911), where those dialects are described as forming a Sinitic or 
Karen group of the Siamese-Chinese sub-family of the Tibeto- 
Chinese languages. This group comprises three principal branches, 
namely, the Sgaw, the Pwo (including the Taungthu), and the 
Bwe, which embraces several minor dialects in the Toungoo and 
Red Karen country. Some of these latter forms of speech have 
been very little studied. A few books have been published in Bwe, 
but at present are superseded by publications in the Sgaw. The 
Sgaw language was reduced to writing by Dr. Jonathan Wade in 
1832, the Burmese alphabet being used in denoting most of the 
sounds, while certain symbols were employed for such letters as 
had no equivalent in Burmese. In this way a perfect phonetic alpha- 
bet was created. 

It may not be out of place in this connection to point out a 
few of the marked characteristics of the Karen language. The 
order of words in the sentence is that of the English, as well as of 
the Chinese and Tai, namely, subject, predicate, and object. The 
language is monosyllabic, except in a few instances, some of which 
are more apparent than real. Each root may be used in any form 
of speech, that is, as noun, adjective, verb, or adverb, by the ad- 
dition of the proper particle or in combination with other roots. 
Each syllable has a signification of its own and a grammatical re- 
lation to one or more of the other syllables in every compound part 
of speech. 

Dr. Wade calls attention to the fact that the Karen often use 
words in pairs, verbs being paired sometimes merely for the sake 
of euphony, though generally to give fullness and force to the idea 
intended. Such pairing of words, whether nouns, verbs, or other 
parts of speech, invest the Karen language. Dr. Wade thinks, with 
"a beauty and force of expression unsurpassed perhaps in any 



other language in the world." These paired words, which are called 
by the Karen "father and mother words," may be parsed separately 
or together according to their position in the sentence. They may 
consist of two roots having similar meanings, or of a well-known 
root together with one which by itself has no meaning now com- 
monly understood. Misapprehension is often avoided by the use of 
paired words. For example, "ni" (with the circumflex tone) means 
year, and the same syllable (with the long tone) means day. When 
this monosyllable is carelessly pronounced, one does not always 
catch the difference ; but "ni-thaw" unmistakably denotes day, be- 
cause "thaw" is another designation for this period of time; and 
"ni-la" clearly signifies year, the latter syllable meaning literally 
month. Such compound words may have compound modifiers which, 
when used with discrimination, give a pleasing finish to the speech. 

The Sgaw dialect has six different tones and the Pwo an equal 
number. The other dialects have various numbers, but not so many 
and difficult as the tones of the Chinese language. 

The Sgaw alphabet consists of twenty-five consonants and ten 
vowels. One character appears both as a gutteral and a consonant. 
There are no closed syllables in this dialect. The Pwo dialect has 
three nasal endings which. Dr. Gilmore thinks, are a remnant of the 
original speech. Evidence in support of this view is supplied by a 
comparison of the meanings of the single word "hpaw" in Sgaw 
Karen with the nasal forms expressing the same meanings in Pwo. 
In the former dialect "hpaw" means one of three things, namely, 
cook, flower, or granary, while in the latter these meanings re- 
quire the use of three nasal forms as follows: "hpawn," "hpaw," 
and "hpan." Other roots from the two dialects show a difference 
of this sort, indicating that the Sgaw has dropped its original 

There is no proper relative pronoun in Sgaw. The particle 
"leu" serves in this capacity, as well as doing duty as quotation 
marks, a preposition, and a part of every compound preposition, 
this last form of speech being one of the characteristics of the lan- 
guage. The reflexive use of the pronoun is a notable idiom in the 
Sgaw. The demonstrative supplies the place of the definite article. 
A numerical affix or adjective is employed with every numeral. 
Each of these affixes is supposed to denote the leading characteristic 

^ Journal, Burma Research Society, Vol. VIII, Pt. II, pp. 122, ff. 


of the noun to which it refers. Its use is similar to our saying in 
English "cattle, five head," or "bread, four loaves." 

The verb is almost always considered transitive and, if there 
should be no word that could properly stand as its object, the nomi- 
nal pronoun "ta" is added to supply it. The verb "to be" takes the 
objective case. The double negative is used with the verb after the 
manner of the French and Burmese idiom, "f — ba" correspond- 
ing to the Burmese "m — bu." 

The Karen numerals are based on the decimal system not only 
from one to ten, but also upwards by tens and hundreds to tens of 
millions. There is, however, a marked peculiarity in the Bwe 
method of counting from six to nine, six being three couples ; seven, 
three couples-one ; eight, four couples, and nine, four couples-one. 

The Pwo dialect does not differ materially from the Sgaw in 
structure, or greatly in vocabulary, as shown by a comparison of 
the two by Dr. Wade, which indicates that thirteen-fourteenths of 
the words of the Sgaw and Pwo are from the same roots. For one 
familiar only with the Sgaw dialect there is difficulty in immedi- 
ately understanding the Pwo, because the nasals affect the pro- 
nunciation of the latter. The Bwe and other Toungoo dialects seem 
to have nasals and wide variations in tones. They also possess let- 
ters that are lacking in the Sgaw, such as g, j, z, and a peculiar dj 
that is impossible to represent in English letters. The Mopgha 
have the letter f, which they pronounce highly aspirated.'^ The 
Sgaw have no g, j, v, or z. They have both the aspirated and un- 
aspirated k, t, and p. Besides these consonants, they have gutterals 
and combined consonants to which there are no parallels in West- 
em speech.^ 

Although in the early days the Karen had no written language, 
it is not to be inferred that they were without a literature. On the 
contrary, a large quantity of bard literature was handed down 
orally from generation to generation, being taught by certain 
elders to the youths who were arriving at maturity, in order that 
they might transmit it in turn without change to those coming 
after them. This literature comprises probably more than two hun- 

* Dr. Mason in the Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1858, VoL I, Pt. II, pp. 129, ff. 

» The Grammar of the Karen language by Dr. Wade, now reprinted at the American 
Baptist Missionary Press. Rangoon. Burma, and that by Dr. Gilmore. from which the writer has 
largely derived his materials for this chapter, are available for those who wish to make a study 
of the language. The Karen TheBa/urua, an encyclopedic dictionary of the Karen language, 
people, and customs, is a valuable work. Volume I of the new edition, which appeared in 1916, 
is especially useful, as it contains definitions in English such as are not to be found in the later 


dred tales, legends, and mythical stories. A large proportion of 
these are in the nature of beast tales or fables, such as are found 
in India, Europe, and Africa. Some of the myths and legends are 
in the form of verse and were formerly recited at length at fu' 
nerals and on other festal occasions, or were sung to the accom- 
paniment of the harp. There are also the epics containing the 
"Y'wa" legends. Finally, a considerable amount of wise instruc- 
tion is contained in the numerous short sayings, proverbs, and 
riddles that have survived. Fragments of the shorter and longer 
poems, chanted at funerals, have been quoted in the chapter on Fu- 
neral Customs, and some of the tales and myths have been referred 
to or paraphrased in other portions of this work. Further presenta- 
tion and discussion of the Karen literature is reserved for a future 


To describe in detail the costume of every tribe of the Karen 
would be like going into all the minutiae of the tartans of the 
Scotch and would of itself fill a volume. There are, however, 
certain characteristics of dress that prevail more or less widely 
among the whole people, and I shall endeavor to point these 
out. The "hse" is found in various forms among almost all the 
tribes. This resembles a smock in that it is a loose, unfitted gar- 
ment, falling from the shoulders over the body. This "hse" is made 
by sewing together two narrow strips of cloth to form an oblong, 
inverted "meal-bag." Holes are left in the seams at the upper cor- 
ners through which the arms are thrust, and another opening is 
left in the middle seam at the top, which serves as the neck of the 

For the men in the Sgaw and Pwo tribes living back in the 
hills this garment still serves as their entire costume. It reaches 
from the shoulders to the calves. In the Pegu Hills the Sgaw 
wear a garment that is white above, except for red selvedge lines 
along the seams, and has the lower third woven with red. The bor- 
der between the two colors may be more or less variegated and em- 
broidered. In the Moulmein and Papon districts and to the east- 
ward the garment is made of alternating wide strips of white and 
red running its whole length. 

Among the Bwe tribes the custom is to wear a shorter smock, 
which fits a little more closely than the one just described. 
It might be called a tunic. The loin-cloth (sometimes replaced by 
short trousers) is worn with the tunic. Various branches of the 
Bwe wear different arrangements of colors. The Paku wear a 
white tunic with a narrow red border around the bottom. In each 
village this border has a distinctive form. Among the other eastern 
hill tribes we find the Kerhker, sometimes called the Gai-hko, wear- 
ing a tunic embroidered with vertical figures like towers, from the 
top of which lines radiate like the rays of the rising sun. The Bwe 
tribes usually wear tunics of vertically striped weaves, some of 



them, e.g., the Mop^ha, with narrow red lines. In the early days 
they wore scant loin-cloths, but nowadays they wear longer cloths 
or Shan trousers, like many of the other hill tribes. The Brecs wear 

Bilk with red stripes 
my account feels he i 

short breeches belted in at the waist with a string. These trousers 
are at first white with narrow red stripes, but soon become a dirty 
yellow, growing constantly darker with wear and age. The so* 
called "Pant Bwes" ornament their breeches with radiating lines 


at the bottom. The Red Karen, who take their name from their 
red garments, wear short breeches of red cotton and a abort close- 
fitting tunic of the same color. These soon become the color of dirt 
from the generous accretions of that substance which adhere to 
them. These people use a blanket, which is red and white striped 
when new. They discard both the tunic and blanket in warm 
weather. Cotton is the most common material used, but in Toungoo 
silk is often used, either alone or with the cotton. 

In Lower Burma, on the plains, it has become customary for 
the men to wear Burmese garments. The only time they put on 
their Karen garments, if they have them, is when they hold their 
"Bgha" feast. The different tribes to the east wear the Shan cos- 
tume, with more or less variation, all the way to the Chinese 

The Karen men knot up their long hair on the top of the head 
or over the right or left ear, according to the custom of their par- . 

ticular locality, fastening it with a small triangular bamboo comb. 
No other head-dress is worn, except a piece of white muslin or other 
light-weight cloth, which may be put over the head as a turban or 
around it like a fillet, unless one should include the ornamental 
head-bands of the Karenni youth who, before marriage, wear neck- 
laces of stones that have been handed down from father to son for 
generations, and ornaments for the head, neck, and ears, consisting 
of mother-of-pearl buttons interspersed with the shining wings of 
beautiful green beetles. All these are, however, given up at 
marriage and become the property of the bride. 


In the matter of adopting: foreign dress the women are more 
conservative than the men. Long after every man in a village has 
taken on the Burmese costume, the women continue to wear their 
characteristic black smock over their Burmese jacket and "longyi" 
(skirt) . 

The Sgaw and Pwo women, after arriving at the age of puberty, 
wear a smock ("hse") and a shirt ("ni") . Little girls wear a single 
"hse," falling from their neck to their ankles, at least when it is 
new. In some villages they wear a white "hse," without any orna- 
ment or color, but in other places they wear a black garment orna- 
mented with colored yams at the neck and around the armholes. 
In some localities the maidens wear the long white "hse," reaching 
to the ankles, until they are married; but it is more common for 
them to put on the skirt and wear a shorter "hse" at about the 
time they arrive at maturity. 

The women's dress varies from one tribe to another, and in 
some instances each village has its particular weave. There is con- 
siderable general similarity of the Karen designs to those in 
the Malay countries, in. Borneo, and in the Philippines; but the 
particular Karen design, among the Sgaw women at least, is that 
supposed to be derived from the python. The story is that "Naw 
Mu E," one of the mjrthical characters of ancient times, was kid- 
napped by a fabulous White Pjrthon and carried off to his den. 
Later, her husband, hearing of her plight, came and rescued her by 
sacrificing himself at the mouth of the den, whereupon the woman 
was released and enabled to return to the upper earth again. Vari- 
ous versions of the story exist, one of which is that she was com- 
pelled by the python to weave patterns on its skin that still remain, 
but on being released showed her contempt for it by weaving skirts 
for herself of the same pattern, thus giving it the gravest insult 
she could inflict. This pattern soon became general among Karen 

Other patterns, of which there are many, are called by various 
names, as seeds, little pagodas, cowries, etc. Especially beautiful is 
the pattern or weave worn by the Mopgha women, which consists 
of a variety of figures in magenta, yellow, and green on a black 
ground. I have been told that the weaving of the designs for these 
skirts has become a lost art, none of the young women of the few 
villages of the Mopgha tribe having learned to weave these gar- 
ments. The Bwe women usually wear a black "ni" or skirt with 


a few horizontal stripes of white and red running through the 


HwdHJmB of ■ 3ni' Kann. (2) A emock 
<"nr'), Siaw Kann, trom Ihe Prsu HiJb, 
i£ HDWck it embroldcrfd wEtfa colored rariu 
The middle of the ikirt (how* the pTthon 
» Karen amock and ikirt from Shwesyin 
L la trimmed with red braid, except the 

The women of all these tribes wear the simplest kind of a 
skirt ; it is a straight slip which, instead of being gathered about 
the waist, is drawn tight across the back, folded across the front, 


and the fulness tucked in at the waist line, thus allowing the 
action of the knees. The garment remains in place remarkably 
well, although no belt is used. When the women bathe — ^those on 
the plains doing so with much more regularity than their sisters 
in the hills — they bring the top of the skirt up under the armpits 
and fasten it over the breasts in the same manner as about the 

The jackets or smocks of the women present a variety of de- 
signs. The most common is the plain black or dark blue "hse" with 
little or no ornament on it. Sometimes it is decorated with small 
rosettes or stars of colored yams or, among the Pwo, with fern-like 
figures. The prettiest decorations are made with the hard white 
seeds of various shapes of the plant called Job's Tears (Coix) . The 
variety mostly used are those resembling barberries, called "bwe" 
in Sgaw Karen and found all over the hills. These are sewed on 
the finished garment in parallel rows, in rows forming V-shaped 
figures, or in the forms of stars or rosettes and edging the arm 
and neck holes. Red yams or pieces of red cloth are also sewed on 
to add to the ornamentation. In Shwegyin we often see a "hse" 
that is woven with elaborate designs of red and green on a black 
ground, red tape being sewed in vertical lines on the body of the 
garment and in horizontal lines over the shoulders. The head-dress 
of the women is called "hko peu ki" and among the Sgaw women 
consists of a piece of cloth about two yards long and a foot 
wide. The middle part is plain white. At either end there is a 
fancy woven ("u") portion about twenty inches long, red in color 
and crossed at intervals of two inches by transverse lines. In the 
middle of these colored ends is a white zigzag line representing a 
serpent. The other lines are in pairs, those equidistant from the 
zigzag above and below being alike and having their special desig- 
nations. These names are, however, in archaic form, and their 
meaning is not well known. There are long white fringes on the 
ends of the head-dress and shorter colored ones at the ends of the 
cross lines. When worn, it is twisted about the head in such a way 
as to form a peak over the forehead with the colored fringes hang- 
ing down about the eyes and the long white fringes down the back. 
In a few villages in the Pegu Hills the women wear circlets ("hko 
hhlaw") of bamboo or silver, around which they coil their hair. The 
metal circlets are made of beaten silver a scant inch in width and 
long enough to go once and a half around the head, being held 


by a fancy clasp at the back, which keeps the band in place. Such 
silver circlets are valued at about ten rupees or more, according to 
the work on them. 

The Karen make blankets of the same cloth that they use for 
their garments. They use two strips of white edged with red sel- 

■ Women3'-Head-Dr,e5i ■ 

vedges, each piece being four yards long. These are sewed together 
lengthwise, and then one outer edge is sewed up to provide a half- 
open sleeping-bag. The fringes of the open end are drawn up over 
the head. 

On the whole, the Karen are very careful about exposing their 
persons. The women have always worn the closed skirts and not the 
open "tamein," which was formerly in vogue among the Burmese. 
They seldom go without their jackets, though in the hills older 
women now and then leave them oflF. Little children run about 
more or less naked. Boys often find their garments a bother and 


thrust them aside, but men usually are very careful about keeping 
their loins covered. When working, the men, who wear the "hse" 
or smock, pull the right arm inside the armhole and extend it again 
through the wide neckhole, so that the right arm and shoulder are 
entirely free for chopping or doing any other work at hand. 
They sometimes lower the whole garment to the waistline. 

No. 1 i> B HopEbB Karen >klrt. ■ bluk sroupd with lilk embroiderr in huecdU. 

EBments. No. 2 is > Tavoy 8s»> Kann tklrt woven In Imiution ot ■ popular 
Bumne pattern. The bag>, No*. S and *, are 8(aw Karen, and No. G. is B«c. 

where they knot it up in Burman fashion and thus leave the upper 
part of the body free. The Brecs are the poorest tribe of Karen 
and wear the scantiest clothing, consisting of short trousers. Often 
these are much the worse for wear. These people have rough small 
blankets, which they throw around themselves in cold weather. But 
more often they appear without them. The Karen on the plains 
bathe daily, doing so in their skirts ("longyi"), as do the Burmese. 
After the bath they slip the fresh garment over the wet one, which 
they allow to fall off as they fasten the other in place. 


The wet garment is then pounded on a stone or soused up and 
down in the water a few times, and that is about all the laundering 
it gets. White jackets are washed out with soap and, in the towns, 
are given to the Indian washermen ("dhobies") for proper "doing 


For protection from the rain the Karen use the wide-spreading 
fronds of the palm, which are nature's models for the paper um- 
brellas of the Chinese and Burmese. Workers in the paddy-fields 
make raincoats out of thatch woven on flexible bark fibre stays, 
which they tie across their shoulders. Three or four layers of the 
thatch make a protection that reaches to the knees. For a hat they 
tie a bit of palm leaf over the head, or wear a round umbrella- 
shaped hat like those made by the Shan and Burmese out of the 
sheathes of the cocoanut-palm or of bamboo. While transplanting 
rice on the plains a rain cover is made of these same sheathes or of 
tough large leaves covered with a network of thin bamboo splints 
bound with rattan. These covers are scoop-shaped and hang from 
the head down the back, causing a company of cultivators, bent 
over their work while wearing them, to look like long-legged tor- 
toises wading in the mud. 

Every Karen carries a bag ("hteu") slung over his shoulder 
as a part of his outfit. It is his pocket, in which he carries everything 
from money to the small game he has shot. The bag is woven in two 
parts. One, which forms the straps, consists of a strip from four 
to six inches wide and five or six feet long. Both ends are fringed. 
The other piece is from six to eight inches wide and from two to 
three feet in length. Each end of the long piece is folded length- 
wise in the middle and sewed together, thus forniing the comers of 
the bag. The short piece is folded crosswise in the middle and 
sewed to these corners or ends, thus forming the sides of the bag. 
The hemmed ends of the short piece form the edges of the mouth of 
the bag. The cloth woven for these bags is usually red with length- 
wise stripes of white, yellow, or black. Different tribes have their 
different patterns and shades of color. The Karen do not ornament 
their bags so highly as do the Kachin tribes in Upper Burma. 
Every Karen woman and girl has some sort of a necklace. It may 
be a few seeds of the Job's Tears strung together, or some glass 
beads purchased from wandering peddlers, or silver beads made 
by Burmese silversmiths who visit the Karen villages during the 
dry season to pick up odd jobs. A common variety of beads is 


made by pounding out little disks of silver and rounding them into 
beads, according to the shape of the disk. Some of these finished 
beads are an inch in length and half an inch in diameter at the 
middle, tapering off to almost a point at the ends. When strung, 
they sometimes form chains so long that they encircle the neck 
several times and hang down over the bosom. 

Bracelets of silver are, like the beads mentioned above, pounded 
out of coins (rupees) for the girls and young women, who not in- 
frequently wear anklets of the same material. Even little boys 
sometimes wear silver bracelets and anklets. 

Disks of silver, with rude figures of peacocks, elephants, and 
other Burmese figures, are often seen hanging from strings around 
the necks of children. Coins are also used in the same way. These 
are usually said to be simply for ornament, but I have occasionally 
wondered whether they might not have some magical purpose as 

Among all the Karen tribes the most peculiar adornments are 
those of the Padaung women. These are rings of brass wire about 
a third of an inch in diameter, worn around the neck for the pur- 
pose of forcing up the chin and lengthening that member. As the 
process of elongation is slow, only a few rings are used at first ; but 
as time goes on others are added, until the high metal collar thus 
formed consists of from twenty to twenty-five rings. The greater 
the length of the neck, the greater the beauty, they think. The 
appearance of these women is grotesque, for their heads appear 
abnormally small above their long necks ; and their bodies, around 
which flap their loose garments, also seem disproportionate.^ They 
can sleep only with their heads hanging over a high bamboo pillow, 
on which they rest their brass-armored necks. These rings are like 
those forming the brass corsets worn by the Iban women of Borneo, 
only the latter wear them lower down. 

The Red Karen women wear, besides a profusion of beads 
around the neck, a girdle or many girdles of seeds and beads of 
various kinds and coils of lacquered rattans. These rattans are 
also worn as rings around the legs just above the calves. They 
often bulge out an inch or two from the leg and cause the women 
to walk with a stride "like a pair of compasses" and to experience 
some difficulty in sitting down. Indeed, it is necessary for them 
in sitting to stretch out the legs straight in front of them.^ It 

* Gazetteer of Upper Burma, Vol. I, Pt. I. p. 587. 
> J. G. Scott, Burma, A Handbook, pp. 212. ff. 


is not uncommon to see similar garters, if one may call them so, 
worn by many of the Karen, but usually they are made of a few 
strands of rattan interwoven in a neat band of about half an inch 

A Padauho Couple — thk Wijii 


„ .h>re of PidaunB »«.ltb i> lavished on feminln 

« Bttiri 


■round their legs and necks often Keigh tventf p. 


m. .tyltah. for her neck hu not been stretched t 


in width. Some say that they wear these simply for ornament, and 
others think that they find them useful in walking long distances. 
In fact these leg-bands perform somewhat the function of the rub- 
ber stocking of the West, 


Among some of the Karen trbes to the east brass or other 
wire rings are worn on the legs, either from the ankles up over the 
calves, or from the knees up the thighs, or with only one or two 
rings at intervals on the legs. The arms are also more or less laden 
with brass circlets, as may be seen from Scott's description.* 

Earrings are worn by both Karen men and women, but 
are usually in the form of plugs instead of rings. The silver ear 
plug of the Sgaw resembles a spool with one end flaring out more 
widely than the other. The larger end may be nearly two inches 
in diameter at the rim, tapering down to a little less than an inch 

Women's Earrings, Half Size 

in diameter where it joins the cylindrical part which fits the hole 
in the ear-lobe. The men wear plugs that have the ends covered 
over with a plate of silver, while the plugs worn by the women 
are left open. Through these openings leaves or flowers are often 
inserted. Sometimes plugs made of a rolled strip of palm leaf fill 
the holes in the ear-lobes, these holes being rarely more than an 
inch in diameter'. When the holes for the ear plugs are in process 
of being enlarged, the little rolls of palm leaf are as tightly wrapped 
and as large as possible when inserted. They then tend to loosen, 
and in so doing stretch the lobe. Sections of a stem .of bamboo 
are sometimes worn by hill people in the lobes of their ears or, 
in the absence of anything else, a buttonaire of orchids or other 
flowers found in the jungle. More than once have I seen orchids 
that would bring fancy prices in a Western city fringing the dirty 
face of some half -naked urchin. 

Karen men not uncommonly wear beads or strings about their 
necks, besides other ornaments on their arms and legs. But per- 
haps the ornament peculiar to them consists of the boar's tusk 
comb, such as their ancestor, "Htaw Meh Pa," made after he had 
killed the mythical boar. This is worn behind the ear, hanging 
down as a sort of earring. The comb, which is not unlike the 

* J. G. Scott, Burma, A Handbook, pp. 121, ff. 


ordinary Karen comb, is made of strips of the outer shell of the 
bamboo, each about two inches long, and held together by a sealing- 
wax produced from the gum of a tree. The upper or pointed end of 

the comb is made small enough to be inserted into the open end of 
the tusk, where it is fixed in place with wax. (See Frontispiece, 
which shows how a comb is worn.) 

Karen Girm ip 

Thli illiutratca the way in which the won 

to one Bide «nd then folding bmck the i 


The Seasons and the Months 

The seasons in Burma are clearly distinguished, the year be- 
ing divided into two parts by the monsoon, which is the periodic 
wind of the Southern Asiatic tropics that for six months, between 
April and November, blows from the southwest off the Indian 
Ocean, bringing clouds and moisture which produce the never-fail- 
ing rainy season, as the Karen name for it, "ta su hka," signifies. 
In November the monsoon shifts to the opposite quarter and the 
dry season or "ta yaw hka" follows, being again six months in 
duration. This latter period is subdivided into the cool season or 
"ta hku hka," from the middle of November to the first of Febru- 
ary, and the hot season or "ta ko hka," during which the sun is 
waxing hotter and hotter until the beginning of the rains in May. 
The rainy season has a fairly even temperature with a mean of 
about eighty degrees, Fahrenheit, while the dry season is marked 
by variations ranging from about fifty to over one hundred degrees. 

The Karen term for year is "ni" and for a generation, their 
longest unit of time, it is "so." Eternity is designated by redupli- 
cating the root "so," for example, "so so," or, with its couplet, 
"so so xa xa." 

According to Karen reckoning, the year is divided into twelve 
lunar months, a month of twenty-nine days alternating with one 
of thirty. Thus, they have six months of twenty-nine days each, 
which total one hundred and seventy-four days, while the six inter- 
vening months of thirty days each total one hundred and eighty 
days. These two totals added together give but three hundred and 
fifty-four days. This arrangement of the calendar necessitated the 
addition every three years of an extra or intercalary month to 
make the reckoning of time correct. But the calendar was so poorly 
kept that confusion arose, and the people do not agree among them- 
selves as to the proper order of the months, or the beginning of the 
year, or even as to the correct interpretation of the names of the 



months in all cases.^ However, the names in the commonly ac- 
cepted order are as follows : 

1. Th* le, the searching month, when the villagers hunt for 
a new village site. It corresponds to the Burmese month, 
Pyatho, and to the moon of January. 

2. Hte kit, the cutting month, when the Karen cut the jungle 
preparatory to cultivation. It is equivalent to the Bur- 
mese Tabodwe and to the moon of February. 

3. Thwe kaw, the brewing month, when the women prepare 
the mash for brewing liquor. By some it is said to signify 
the month of burnings, for at this time they bum over 
the ground that was cut in the previous month. It is 
equivalent to the Burmese Tahaung and to the moon of 

4. La hkli, the month of yams, because at this season the 
people were often reduced to the necessity of eating the 
tubers of the wild yam. It is equivalent to the Burmese 
Tagu and to the moon of April. 

5. De nya, the lily month, when the wild lilies bloom. Equiva- 
lent to Kasone of the Burmese and to the moon of May. 

6. La nwi, the seventh month, corresponds to the Burmese 
Nayone and to the moon of June.^ 

7. La xo, the eighth month, is equivalent to the Burmese Waso 
and to the moon of July. 

8. La hkii, the shut-in month, when it is difficult to go about 
on account of the heavy rains. It corresponds to the Bur- 
mese Wagaung and to the moon of August. 

9. Hsi mil, the month of a little sunshine, when after the 
heaviest rain there is a little fair weather. It corresponds 
to the Burmese Tawthelin and the moon of September. 

^ The Karen Recorder, a vernacular paper published by the Sgaw Karen Mission at Ran- 
sroon, printed a long discussion on the order of the months and the significance of their names, 
which appeared in various numbers from 1916 to 1917. The outcome of the discussion was not 
at all convincing. 

' A writer in the Karen Morning Star in January. 1918. suggested another meaning for 
the name of this month, which comes at the opening of the rainy season when, as often hap- 
pens, there are alternate weeks of sunshine and rain. Karens generally, probably almost with- 
out exception, understand the name of this month to refer only to its numerical position in the 


10. Hsi hsa, the month of a little starlight, when the stars 
begin to show themselves occasionally. It corresponds 
to the Burmese Thadingyut and to the moon of October. 

11. La naw, the month of the "naw," when from the seeds of 
this small plant is extracted an oil much like sessimum 
oil. It is equivalent to the Burmese Tezaungmon and to 
the moon of November. 

12. La plil, the month of eclipses, when the moon dies and 
hence the month for funeral ceremonies. It corresponds 
to the Burmese Nadaw and to the moon of December. 

It will be noticed that in the list as given above the seventh 
and eighth months are numbered 6 and 7, respectively. Two sug- 
gestions have been made to explain this incongruity. One of these 
is Dr. Mason's suggestion to the effect that originally the first 
month was La plii (December), which would not only correct the 
incongruity, but also make the Karen calendar correspond to that 
of Tibet, which begins with December.^ The other explanation was 
given to me by a Karen teacher, who says that the month of La 
hkli (April) is the one that is repeated every three years in order 
to correct the calendar, and that the periodic interposition of this 
extra month is responsible for the names of the seventh and eighth 
months and the disagreement of those names with their serial num- 
bers in the list. To me this explanation seems very dubious. One 
Karen writer attempts to correct the incongruity between the 
seventh and eighth months and their serial numbers by proposing 
to transfer La hkil (August) from its generally accepted position 
in the list to a place before the seventh month, but, of course, this 
is not a feasible change. As many Karens associate the month for 
funeral ceremonies (La plii) with the end of the year, they do not 
think it should be shifted into first place in the calendar. 

The Days of the Week 

Few of the Karen people can tell the days of the week, except 
according to Burmese or Christian nomenclature. Several old 
men have given me names for the days, which, they say, were 
in use a long time ago. There are seven of these, as may be seen 
in the following tabulation : 

» Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal Vol. XXXVH, 43. 



Sunday Li naw The eagle's beak 

Monday Htaw meh The long tooth 

Tuesday To mii The slanting sun 

Wednesday To kyaw The leaning oil tree 

Thursday Thi thwa The big comb 

Friday Mii datv hpa The divided sun day 

Saturday MU htaw k* hpu The pig's stomach day 

I have found no traditions or other information relating to these 

The Karen divide the day into the following seven parts or sub- 
divisions: (1) mil hse wah taw, dawn; (2) mii heh htaw, 
sunrise; (3) mil heh htaw hpa htaw, the sun is high; (4) mii htu, 
noon; (5) mii xe law, the sun declines; (6) mii haw law, evening, 
and (7) mii law nil, sunset. The night also has its divisions, such 
as mil yaw ma, meaning that the sun is deep down; hpa hpaw 
mil, midnight or literally midway between the suns, and hsaw o, 
cock crow or early morning, of which they distinguish three 
stages. In conversation a Karen indicates the time of day or night 
by pointing to the sun's position as it was at the time to which he 
is referring, pointing upward or downward as the occasion requires. 
More than once in the narration of some story I have heard the 
different members of a group dispute about the exact angle at 
which the sun stood when the incident occurred, the difference be- 
tween the angles indicated being not more than a degree. 

Measurement of Space 

When a Karen speaks of some object, he is likely to indicate its 
size by comparing it with some part of his person. For example, 
he will describe a bamboo as being as large around as his arm, or 
the limb of a tree as being the size of his thigh. Applying the same 
principle, he has devised a system of rough units of measurement, 
such as the length of the forefinger, called V sit mil ; the distance be- 
tween the end of the thumb and the end of the forefinger, t'hpi; 
the distance between the end of the thumb and the knuckle of the 
little finger when the fist is doubled up, t'so; the interval between 
the end of the thumb and the end of the middle finger, t' hta; the 
cubit or the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, 
V pla, and the reach of the outstretched arm, f hkli. Inasmuch as 


made of black 

all of these units of measurement vary with the size and proportions 
of the individual, allowance is generally made for such variations, 
The cubit is commonly employed in all building operations, and 
men with long arms make the proper correction by measuring from 
the elbow to the first joint instead of to the tip of the middle finger. 
Contrariwise, small men add to their cubit the width of a finger 
or more to bring it to the standard length of a half-yard, which 
it is nowadays made to equal. 

Measurements for longer or shorter distances are specified 
in relative terms, borrowed from one form or another of physical 
exertion. Such measurements are : the pace, t'kka ; the stone's 
throw, t' kwi leu; a call (that is, as far as one can hear a shout), 
/' kaw. An indefinite distance of a mile or two, which one might 


walk without stopping, is a stage, t* taw leh; a half -day's journey, 
V mil htu leh; a day's journey, t' ni leh, and so on. The Karen may 
on occasion speak of a month's or a year's journey to very distant 
places. Another method of designating distances by intervals of 
time during which physical effort is required is to specify the num- 
ber of betel chews or quids that would be consumed during the 
trip. For instance, a Karen is apt to inform one that a certain vil- 
lage is three or four betel chews distant. As it requires from fifteen 
to twenty minutes to dispose of a quid of betel, the village in ques- 
tion may be estimated as being three or four miles away. 

The Karen's Knowledge op Astronomy 

It often happens that the Karen find their way through the 
jungle at night by means of the stars. The more brilliant constella- 
tions, called hsa V so, are well known and have their particular 
names. Of these, the Great Bear (Hsa k' htaw, literally the Ele- 
phant) and the Southern Cross (Meh la ka) are referred to the most 
frequently, because they signify north and south, respectively. 
These two constellations were supposed, according to an old legend, 
to have been brothers, being thought to resemble each other in ap- 
pearance ; but on account of a quarrel they separated and went to 
the opposite ends of the heavens. Orion is known by the name of 
the Stealthily Shooting Stars (Hsa kwa hka) . A legend relating to 
the three stars of Orion's belt, which are named Hsa yo ma (stars 
that seized wives) , recounts that these stars kidnapped the daugh- 
ters of the Pleiades, which are regarded as the great ones of the 
heavens. Later the three culprits were caught and reduced to the 
degraded position of servants to their parents-in-law. The Archer 
— Sagittarius of the ancients — is called the Bow-head Star (Hsa 
hkli hko, literally, the head of the bow where it is joined to the barrel 
of the crossbow). The Pleiades are named Hsa deu mil, a term 
signifying a collection of people closely related to one another; 
while three stars just east of the Pleiades, which look as though they 
had broken away from the original group, are called Deu mil law 
hpa (those separated from the company). Three stars south 
of the Pleiades, which form a triangle, bear the name of the 
Loom (Hsa hta hko), because the geometrical figure indicated by 
their positions suggests that enclosed by the floor, which forms the 
base ; the wall, the vertical side ; and the inclined warp, the hypothe- 
nuse, of the loom in the living-room of a Karen home. It ought to 


be added that the rising of the morning star, Hsa tu ghaWj marks 
the time for the Karen to get up in the morning ; while the appear- 
ance of the evening star, Hsa tu ha, informs him that the end of 
the day's work has come and with it the time for going home. 

The Karen take note of shooting stars, which they speak of 
sometimes as Hsa yu or flying stars and sometimes as Hsa hpo tha, 
youthful stars. Catching sight of them, people say that they 
are going to visit the maidens. They give to comets the obvious 
name of tailed stars, Hsa meh htaw, and are not different from 
other superstitious races in believing that their coming brings 
calamity. The planets have impressed them as "wandering stars," 
while they leave the fixed stars without names, except the Pole 
Star, which they call the Mouse, and a star near the moon, which 
they describe as the star that draws the moon, Hsa mo la. The 
Milky Way reminds the Karen of their flowering fields of paddy 
and receives the poetic name of the paddy flower stars, Hsa bii 

Like the Chinese and other Oriental peoples, the Karen at- 
tribute the eclipse of the sun or moon to some monster that devours 
the luminary. The Karen, however, do not discover this monster in 
the dragon, but believe that dogs do the devouring. According to 
the legend, a certain personage, who possessed the elixir of life, had 
four dogs. On one occasion when he was absent from home, the 
moon descended to earth and stole his wondrous cordial. On his 
return, finding the elixir had vanished, he constructed a ladder of 
rice-straw and mounted aloft with his dogs. But just as he was 
stepping upon the moon his ladder broke, causing him and one of 
his faithful beasts to fall to earth and lose their lives. The other 
three dogs were so fortunate as to find secure footing on the firma- 
ment. Now and again they become enraged at the recollection of 
the untimely fate of their master, attack and swallow the moon, 
and thereby produce the eclipse. One of these faithful dogs is black, 
and for some unknown reason is unable to swallow the moon 
entire and so causes only a partial eclipse ; but the yellow one de- 
vours it completely, and it can be seen shining through his hide, 
which accounts for the color of the luminary during a total eclipse. 
On escaping through the animal's bowels, the moon regains its 
former brightness.* 

* See Chapter XXVm on Tabu, p. 289. 




The Karen on the plains live in houses of Burmese construction, 
which are therefore outside the scope of this work. In the Pegu 
Hills we find the single-structure village, which seems to have 
been the characteristic Karen dwelling from early times. It might 
be described as a bamboo apartment-house on stilts, accommodating 
on the average from twenty to thirty families. It is spread out on 
one floor, and each family occupies not one "flat" but a room, called 
in Karen "deu," which faces a central corridor running the length 
of the barrack. 

Such a village, "th' waw," is usually rebuilt on a new site each 
year. The new location is sought by the local chief during the hot 
season, after conference with the elders and after the crops have 
been brought in. The place selected by the chief is fairly level, 
adjacent to the area to be cut over the coming year, and near a 
spring or stream that will not dry up during the hot weather. In 
the old days it was also necessary to choose a site that would be 
high and easily defended against raids. Before the decision is 
finally made, the chief must consult the auspices in the form of 
chicken bones, and if these are propitious and no laughing-bird 
(Lanius) calls "chet, chet,** the men begin to cut bamboos with 
which to construct the village. 

The bamboos selected for posts are twenty or more feet long 
and usually from four to six inches in diameter. They are set in 
the ground at intervals of four or five cubits (six to seven and a 
half feet). Holes are chopped through these large uprights at a 
height of from six to eight feet above the ground, and pins are 
thrust through on which bamboo girders of the same size are fas- 
tened by means of withes. At right angles to these girders and 
resting on them, other bamboo poles, slightly smaller in size, are 
tied at regular inten^als of about a cubit to form the floor joists. 
The floor is made of large bamboos, split, flattened out, and secured 
to the joists by means of withes of the same material. It is six 
or eight feet above the ground, springy, and seamed with cracks, 
through which rubbish and wash water may be disposed of. As 



Karen Villaoe. Thabbawj 

Stockade and Gateway or the Villac^ Re Tho, Thauiawi 


the floor of the corridor is subjected to much heavier wear than 
that of any single room, it is made of round bamboos securely tied 

Some six feet or less above the girders — my head has some- 
times found that it was not fully six feet — another set of holes are 
hacked into the posts or uprights, through which pins are run to 
serve as supports for the "wall-plates/* as the English residents 
of Burma call them, which run parallel with the girders below, and 
are secured in the same way. Other bamboos, parallel with the 
floor joists, are tied on the wall-plates at intervals of three or four 
feet. These beams give stability to the building. The tops of the 
posts may be only a little above the wall-plates, or they may run 
up several feet to the roof-plates, which are secured by pins and 
bamboo withes like the beams below. There may or may not be 
a roof -tie running across above the wall-plates. On the roof -plates 
rest the purlins or rafters that carry the interlocking half -sections 
of bamboo of which the roof is formed. This kind of roof may have 
supplied the model for the native round tile used so extensively in 
China and throughout the East. The bamboos to be used in the 
construction of the roof must be straight and three or four inches 
in diameter. They are split down the middle. The halves are laid 
close together with the concave sides uppermost, and the cracks 
between their edges are covef ed by a second row of halves laid with 
their convex sides uppermost. This overlapping of the concave by 
the convex halves gives a tight roof, the rain running down the 
troughs formed by the concave halves and off at the eaves. If one 
set of interlocking or overlapping bamboo "tiles" is not long enough 
to make the roof, a second set fits far enough under the higher set 
to catch the drip from above. Sometimes the roof covers the whole 
structure, including the corridor. In that case it has a ridge in the 
middle; otherwise the ridge may be over the row of posts next to 
that standing at the corridor. If the village-house stands in a windy 
location, where the rain would sometimes be driven up the roof, a 
small bamboo strip is tied at right angles across the upper ends of 
each set of "tiles." This is the more necessary because the roof is 
never steep, having a slope of not more than twenty degrees. 

The walls of the village-house are constructed of flattened bam- 
boo lengths nearly long enough to reach from the floor to the wall- 
plates. Three horizontal bamboo poles of small diameter are run 
through the posts, holes having been made for the purpose, and the 
flattened bamboo strips are woven between these. Such a wall con- 



tains numerous cracks and apertures, and may be easily removed 
to allow a corpse to be carried out. Similar partitions divide the 
sleeping apartment from the rest of the. family-room. (See p. 65.) 
When we come upon such a village, we may find it surrounded 
by a stockade, as in the case of those in the Tharrawaddy district, 
where protection is thus obtained from tigers and other animals 
of the jungle and also from human prowlers. The stockade is made 
of bamboo poles, re-inforced by four rows of sharp pickets woven 
in and out of the fence. (See pp. 55, 57.) The gate of the stockade is 
constructed of large bamboos suspended from a cross-piece, so that 
they knock against one another when any one enters. Thus, the 
approach of a visitor is well announced. Once inside of the enclo- 
sure and past the multitude of yelping dogs which the villagers 
keep, the visitor comes to the ladder by which access is gained 
to the communal abode. The ladder, like everything else, is made 
of bamboo and has small loose rungs that can be easily removed. 
To an American it looks inverted, for it is narrow at the bottom and 
wide at the top. If the sun is high, heat is reflected from the burn- 
ing hot bamboos. Mounting to the'floor, one steps gingerly along, 
fearing the round flooring may turn under him. The hollow bam- 
boos resound, as each rubs and creaks against its fellows. The whole 
population seems to be peering out of their doors or peeping through 
the cracks. The visitor enters a doorway, without its door. The 
first thing in the room that strikes his attention is the fireplace 
("hpa k' pu"), which is only a little way from the entrance. The 
intervening space is largely filled with water-joints, rice baskets, 
and various household utensils. This is called the water-joint 
place ("hti pu law**). The fireplace consists of four upright bam- 
boos fastened in the floor beams below and reaching to the cross- 
beams above. On the floor a rough box-like enclosure is built around 
the bottoms of the poles and filled in with dirt and ashes. Three 
round stones, or more in case the family has two pots boiling at 
once, give support to the cooking vessels, while the fire underneath 
is fed with dry bamboo fuel. About three feet above the ashes 
there is a shelf made of bamboo splints with their hard surfaces 
downward to the fire. The soot deposit on the under side of this 
shelf prevents the flames from doing any damage. Pots, plates, and 
other utensils find their convenient resting-place upon the shelf. 
One or two other shelves above this serve as catch-alls for herbs, 
baskets, tin lamps, unused food, large knives ("dahs"), and almost 
anything else that finds its way into the house. A hole cut in each 



of the two front poles of the fireplace a little way above the floor 
serves as a holder for the bamboo stick kept for stirring the cook- 
ing rice or other foods. 

A smaller box of ashes in the center of the room supplies a 
fireplace for the warming of the family when the air is chilly of 
nights and mornings. It is then comfortable to sit about the fire, 
as one visits and tells stories. 

The Karen have little use for artificial light. They get up with 
the sun and go to bed with the chickens. Often the flaring light of 
the bamboo fuel in the fireplace serves for light, while they entertain 
visitors or do odd bits of belated work. When they need something 
more than this, they use a cup containing crude earth-oil (petroleum 
is found in large quantities in Upper Burma) with a wick 
sticking out, or they make torches from the resinous oil of 
the "xaw" (Dipterocarptcs) tree. These enormous trees when 

tapped yield a good run of 
oil. After each run of sap 
they scorch the hole and get 
another run. The oil is 
mixed with bits of dry wood 
or punk and moulded into 
sticks about a cubit long and 
an inch in diameter by put- 
ting it into joints of small 
bamboo. When it has dried, 
it is wrapped in palm or 
pineapple leaves and tied 
up with bark fibre. When 
needed for use, one end is 
loosened and applied to the 
fireplace for lighting. It is then set on a rough stand fashioned out 
of wood, on which it rests in an oblique position and in this manner 
bums to the best advantage. Nowadays little tin lamps made by 
Burmese tinsmiths after the pattern of the old European lamps 
are in common use. These hold a cotton wick and give a little light 
and some smoke, as they have no chimneys. 

Usually beyond the cooking place a small partition extends out 
about four feet from the wall, forming a little alcove and hiding 
from view the family sleeping-room. The latter is a small apart- 
ment not more than eight or ten feet each way and is supplied 
with either a few rush mats, such as the Burmans are in the habit 

A Torch with Its Stand 





Plw y- AKttn FAMKr-SooM • 

of sleeping on, or a single large bamboo mat, besides a quantity of 
old clothes, blankets, pillows, and rags scattered about or hanging 
from the rough ends of the walls. At either the front or back of the 
large outer room, whichever is toward the east — the place of honor 
in a Karen house — is a raised platform called the "hso hko." This 
is about a cubit's height from the floor and has a mat on it worn 
shiny with much sitting. It is the place where guests are received, 

especially if they are people of note. 
Here against the wall are a few pil- 
lows, which may be half-round bam- 
boos of giant size, that is, from eight 
to ten inches in diameter, or cloth 
pillows filled with fibre from the cot- 
ton tree (Bombax heterophylla) . The 
guest is invited to sit on the platform 
and to partake of the contents of the 
fragrant betel-box, which is sure to 
be hospitably pushed in front of him. The cradle usually hangs 
from the crossbeams in the middle of the room, being held up by 
fibre ropes, although occasionally elephant chains are called into 
use to give full measure of security. The cradle itself may be a 
blanket swung up at the four comers, or it may be part of the 
trunk of a large hollow tree. A basket-work cradle is scarcely ever 
found in old Karen homes. 

At the back of the family apartment the bamboo joists and 
flooring project several feet beyond the wall, forming a primitive 
back veranda where clothes are hung to dry; rice (paddy), fish, 
fruit, and vegetables are set out in the sun, and other domestic 
operations are carried on in private. 

In a few Karen villages a young men's club-room ("blaw") is 
still maintained, but not in most. Where such a room exists, it does 
not differ in general appearance from a family-room, except that 
it has no partitions. The hearth in the middle of the space serves 
as a social fireside on cold mornings and evenings. At the east end 
a raised dais extends the width of the room, being used both for 
reception and for sleeping purposes. Guests, unless closely related 
to some family in the village, usually sleep here, except when, as 
a mark of respect, they are invited to sleep in a room apart on the 
"hso hko" with the men of the house. Women guests sleep in the 
family sleeping-room together with the women folk and children. 
The old type of Karen village-house, such as we have been 
describing above, is being modified by contact with the Burmese 


way of building, and every stage of evolution from the village-bar- 
rack to separate family houses may be observed in Karen villages 
to-day. (See the illustrations on pages 94, 220, and 227.) 

When an epidemic breaks out in a bamboo village-house, the in- 
habitants are not held there by the considerations that ordinarily 
prevent the dwellers in durable towns and cities from taking their 
prompt departure. At best the Karen village-house is habitable 
only for a year or two, was built by the combined efforts of the men 
of the little community from material of which the supply is abund- 
ant, and can be replaced quickly. When, therefore, disease begins 
to spread among the adjacent families, they scatter to the four 
winds with their most necessary belongings. Soon they gather and 
build another village on a new site and, having removed the last of 
their possessions from the old infected structure, leave it to decay 
or set it on fire. 

When a village community is removing from one site to an- 
other, the women prepare food and liquor for the journey, pack up 
their belongings and leave them in the jungle near the path, if they 
do not wish to take them to the new place at once, and, finally, pre- 
pare the offerings to be left behind. These offerings consist of four 
balls of cooked rice, one white, another made black by being mixed 
with charcoal, and the other two colored red and yellow, respec- 
tively, by the admixture of colored pigments. These balls are placed 
on a large winnowing-sieve that has been woven by the women for 
the purpose at the very last. This tray and its offerings are carried 
to the central part of the house, where it is visited and spat upon 
by every member of the village. They then repeat the following 

''Let all sickness and pain depart. Depart all colds. 
Go eat your black rice, your red rice. 
Go eat your betel and its leaves. 
Go eat with your wife and your children. 
Go stay in your house." 

After thus addressing the spirits, the villagers take up their bur- 
dens, beat their drums and gongs, and set out for their new abode — 
a sight, indeed, for a motion picture camera. 

On arriving at the new house, they do not enter it at once, but 
wait until some one has plucked from adjacent trees seven twigs 
growing upright, and with these has swept out the rooms. As the 
sweeper goes through the house he repeats the following incanta- 


''Go away, all evil spirits. 
Depart, all devils. 

We and our children are going to stay here. 
Do not remain near. Go. Go." 

The members of each family then take up the various household 
tasks, including the building of the fireplace. If this is not com- 
pleted the same night, they tie up their wrists to keep their "k'las" 
from wandering away and finish it the next morning. This is done 
among the Karen of Siam. 

In the preceding pages of this chapter I have attempted to give 
a description of the Karen village-house. I do not say "home," for 
the Karen language has no word for home. The house is, however, 
something more than the eating and sleeping place of the village 
families : it is the center of their domestic life and worship and as 
such possesses a certain amount of sanctity. From what has been 
said above, it is clear that the village structure displays no attempts 
at artistic decoration, and is not made attractive by any of the 
touches that give so rich a meaning to the word "home" among 
Christians. The Karen bamboo house, located in a tropical climate 
as it is, affords a certain amount of physical comfort : the breezes 
blow through its airy walls, and one may lounge and gossip within 
during the heat of the day and not experience great oppression. 
At night, when the cool air begins to make itself felt, the open 
fire with its cheerful blaze attracts the story-teller, while out in the 
shadows the youthful lover strums his harp, and the children and 
the dogs play about in sufficient quietness not to disturb their 

Everywhere common dogs are kept by the Karen. These are 
the ordinary smooth-haired pariah hounds, which are familiar to 
the traveler in all parts of the peninsula. Besides these there are 
the hunting-dogs, mentioned in the chapter on Hunting and Fish- 
ing.^ Only in recent days have the Karen shown any inclination to 
raise cats. In the early days they professed not to eat these felines ; 
but I can testify that, whatever their former antipathies to the cat 
tribe may have been in this regard, they no longer hesitate to eat 
the wild varieties of cats that are to be caught in the jungle. They 
also find rats palatable. 

Pigs and fowls are the most common domestic animals among 
the Karen. Dr. Mason speaks of the pigs as being of the "small 
Chinese variety." ^ They are the property of the women and know 

1 See p. 102. 

' Journa!, Asiatic Society of Bengal, XXXVII. Pt. II, 129. 



their mistress's voice. When a woman dies, her pigs are killed in 
order that their *'k' las" may accompany her into the next world. 
The fowls are of a variety not unlike the wild jungle-fowls found all 
over the country. 

On the plains buffaloes have been extensively bred for use as 
draft animals and in cultivating the paddy-fields. As they are slow- 
going creatures the small native oxen, often mistakenly identified 
with the "sacred ox" from having a hump like the cattle supposed 
to have been used in ancient Israel, have largely superseded them 
for draft purposes. In the Toungoo Hills oxen are employed to 
some extent as pack-animals, especially by the Paku tribe. Both 
the Paku and their neighbors, the Mawnepgha, raise a few goats, 
while the Red Karen are breeders of ponies to some extent. 

Bomboo Tiles 

DcTAiL ^ bAHftoo Tiles 

• 5ioE*\AtW'^ 

A ' b^kMbOO • KARtn H0U5E 

• KAmaoAQYi-1917- 


The dietary of the Karen includes almost everything edible in 
the way of vegetables that grow in their country. A great variety 
of fish, birds, and animals are also partaken of; but it should be 
said at once that three-fourths, if not seven-eighths, of the amount 
of food they consume is rice, of which they raise many varieties. 
Next to rice they resort in time of need to millet, maize, and roots, 
especially yams of different kinds. Besides gourds, squashes, egg- 
plant, roselle, sweet potatoes, and the edible fruits, the Karen eat 
the tender shoots of many plants and trees, including the bamboo. 

All kinds of fish and eels, some varieties of crabs, snakes, lo- 
custs, and grasshoppers, snails and other mollusks, and even cer- 
tain varieties of ants are comprised in the menu. Flesh of all sorts 
from that of the elephant to that of the rat is eaten with relish.^ 
In the realm of feathered creatures the variety is equally compre- 
hensive, ranging from the sparrow to the peacock, not even omit- 
ting the crow. Fish-paste, called in Karen "nya u" ^ but commonly 
given its Burmese name of "ngape," is greatly prized by the Karen, 
who think that it adds a very savory flavor to their food. On the 
plains they buy it from the Burmans from whom, it may be, they 
have adopted its use, but sometimes those living near streams or 
lakes make it for themselves. 

Notwithstanding their inclusive diet, the Karen have no idea 
of what we call a balanced ration and, after all, are more or less 
undernourished. They also practice constantly the habit of betel 
chewing, which benumbs their sense of taste. For these reasons 
they crave highly seasoned foods. Chilies or red peppers are con- 
sidered a necessity, while meats and powdered condiments of spices, 
tumeric, and chilies are used only to make the pungent curry sauce 
with which the cooked rice is flavored. Salt, which is obtained at 
the bazaars, is also used in seasoning. 

' . 'W 

^ Messrs. Hose and MacDousral speak of some writer, whose name they do not give, as 
eonveyingr the impression that the Karen do not eat the flesh of animals belonsins to the cat 
tribe. I have not found this to be true. (Vide Hose and McDousral, Pagan TVibes of Borneo, 
Vol. II. 239). 

^ This word means literally "rotten fish. 




Inasmuch as rice is the chief article of diet among the Karen, 
a few words should be said about its preparation. "Paddy," which 
is the grain before it has been cleaned for cooking, is brought home 
from the bins in which it has been stored and spread out on mats 
to dry in the sun. It is then pounded in mortars to rub off the outer 
husk. A second pounding removes the inner skin covering each 
grain and polishes the rice pure white. (See p. 68.) As cleaned rice 
does not keep as well as paddy, the natives pound out only enough 
to last a week or two. The kernels are washed in a basket with a 
sieve-like bottom and are then poured into a pot of boiling water. 
They are allowed to cook vigorously for ten minutes or less, until 
they swell and become soft enough to crush easily between the 
thumb and finger. The water is then poured off and the pot set 
back in the hot ashes to dry out any remaining water. When the 
rice is served, it remains whole, firm, and slightly hard. Soft boiled 
rice is most unpalatable to the Karen, who think it not so sustaining 
as the less cooked cereal. Nowadays the cooking is done in most 
places in earthen pots, which are bought from Burmese or Shan 
traders. These pots are of red unglazed clay, cost but a few annas, 
(one anna is equal to about two cents or an English penny), and 
last with care for some time. 

Besides the rice used for ordinary meals there are many va- 
rieties of glutinous rice that are cooked or steamed on the plains 
for an early morning meal or for special feasts. The steamers are 
made like the Burmese pots, but with a number of small holes in the 
bottom. These are placed over vessels of boiling water, the steam 
of which rises through the openings and permeates the grain. I 
have been told that when a rare feast is desired, the rice is steamed 
over a vessel in which a chicken is boiling, and the rice becomes 
flavored with the fowl. Steamed glutinous rice is sometimes mixed 
with sessimum seeds and pounded in a mortar until it becomes a 
sticky paste. This mixture is called "to me to pi." 

It is reported that long ago, before the Karen had as much 
dealing with the Burmese as they do now, they cooked their rice 
in joints of bamboo. At any rate, this is their present practice 
when out in the forest. The hunter or wayfarer in the jungle puts 
his rice into a large joint of bamboo, which he stands at the edge 
of a little fire until the contents are sufficiently boiled. The hard 
silicious sheathing of the bamboo easily withstands the heat of a 
single cooking. Once used, the joint is thrown away, for there are 
plenty more to be cut as occasion demands. Sometimes cooked rice 


for a journey is carried in the same joint in which it wa8 boiled. 
Certain kinds of bamboo, such as the thorny variety "wa hagu," 
which grows in low lands, impart a special flavor to the rice that is 
cooked in them. Rice deriving its taste from the thorny bamboo is 
thought to be one of the most delicious viands that can be obtained 
and is called "me taw." When certain kinds of bamboo bear fruit. 

which is at long intervals, their seeds are often cooked and eaten in 
place of rice. 

The larger vegetables, like pumpkins, yams, etc., are cut up 
and boiled until soft. Green fruits and shoots are also cooked, al- 
though many spicy kinds of shoots and ripe fruits are generally 
eaten raw. 

There are intervals when a village community lives only on 
rice eaten with a little salt, fish-paste gravy, and red peppers. After 


a fishing or hunting expedition, however, or when some feast is 
held, the people gorge themselves with as many kinds of meat or 
fish as they can obtain. Larger fish and the flesh of animals are 
cut up and cleaned before cooking. No part of an animal is wasted. 
The intestines, when properly cleansed and prepared, are considered 
especially toothsome. The best-liked meats are pork and venison. 
Birds, pigeons, and ducks are also regarded as good eating. Small 
birds aie often cooked without other preliminaries than a hasty 

The buiKwire Is waUhtng thf pot bail. SIkiu of appmuhinK eivlliution 

plucking of the feathers. Meats are ordinarily cooked with the 
oil pressed from sesame seeds and flavored with condiments more 
or less in the manner of Indian curries. For this purpose a larger 
or smaller quantity of the following spices are used : tumeric, gin- 
ger, cloves, cardamon seeds, and cinnamon bark, besides tamarind, 
lime-juice, and the inevitable salt and chili. Fishermen and 
hunters like to roast small game, fish, or strips of meat from larger 
animals between splints of bamboo hung near or over a camp fire. 
The Polynesian way of baking such foods is often employed, the 
fish, flesh, or fowl being wrapped in plantain leaves and buried in a 
pit, which is lined with stones made hot by having had a roaring fire 


on them. Meat in excess of immediate needs is cut into narrow 
strips and dried on a rack over a fire. The strips are then covered 
with salt and stored away for future use. Fish are dried in the 
same way. Such preserved foods are eaten by the workers in the 
fields or help to furnish forth the repasts on a journey. In the 
hills, so far as I have observed, the Karen does not fry his food ; 
but on the plains, where he has more or less taken up Burmese 
ways, cooking food in fat has become somewhat common. This is 
usually done outside the house, however, because the Karen, like 
the Burmese and Shan, have a superstitious fear of the smell of 

While cooking is preeminently the women's work, it seems that 
nearly every man can cook and does on occasion prepare his own 
food. I have eaten many a tasty meal prepared by Karen men, who 
considerately took pains to have clean utensils and to use only such 
condiments as they knew white men were likely to relish. 

The serving of food among the Karen is a simple matter. The 
rice is emptied into a tray, the meats or vegetables are put in little 
bowls, and all are set on a mat on the floor. The members of the 
household squat around this ''family board" and eat with the hand. 
They pour gravy from the meat, fish, or other side-dishes on the 
rice, work it in with the fingers, and convey the food in compact 
lumps to their mouths. Among the more primitive large plantain 
leaves often serve as trays and plates. The Karen on the plains 
use separate dishes of china or enamel-ware, which are readily 
obtained in the bazaar. These are set on a low table, standing no 
more than six inches above the floor. This manner of serving is in 
vogue among the Burmese. There is not much sociability about a 
Karen meal. Each person attends to his eating until he has finished, 
when he rises, rinses off his hands, quenches his thirst with a drink 
of water, and withdraws to sit down, or leaves the house without 
formality. The members of a family generally eat together; but 
if guests are present, the women usually wait until the men are 
served. Large quantities of food are prepared for wedding and 
funeral-feasts, which, as a rule, the men and women partake of 
separately without particular order or arrangement: 

The safety-match is nowadays the common means employed by 
Karens in producing fire ; but formerly the flint and steel were used, 
as they were all over the world in the early days of the nine- 
teenth century and before. A simpler, and probably indigenous, 
method was by the friction of two dry pieces of bamboo. One 


piece was sawn back and forth through a groove cut crosswise on 
the crest of another, the latter being a half -section of large bamboo 
laid over a quantity of shavings or punk. The heat thus generated 
in a minute or two produced smoke and a flame, and the tinder 
caught the blaze. A generation or two ago Karens carried fire 
pistons, when on a journey, to light their pipes. The description of 
this simple mechanism, which has been given to me, is that it was 
a bone or metal cylinder with a small hole at one end into which a 
tight-fitting piston was driven by a sharp blow and then quickly 
withdrawn. The air within was thus sufficiently compressed and 
heated to ignite a bit of tinder at the bottom of the cylinder.* 

Milk does not form a part of the diet of the Karen people any 
more than it does of some other Oriental races. There is little with 
which to feed babies whose mothers can not nurse them. How- 
ever, it is a comparatively rare thing for a mother not to be able 
to nurse her child. The first solid food given to babies is rice 
that has first been masticated by the mother. The kind of food 
eaten by the parents is given to their children as soon as they cry 
for it. This, I think, is one of the most fruitful sources of the high 
death rate among Karen infants. 

The people in the hills eat three meals a day, one soon after 
rising, one at mid-day, and the third in the evening after the work 
is done. On the plains an early "chota hazri" of glutinous rice is 
sometimes, but not always, taken.* The regular morning meal comes 
somewhere between eight and ten o'clock and the afternoon repast 
between three and five. Tea is coming to be much used among the 
Karen, either the native pickled tea which is imported by the Bur- 
mese from the Shan states, or the Chinese and India teas which 
are now sold all over the country. The Karen drink their tea with- 
out milk and often put in a little salt in place of sugar. Coffee is 
used to some extent in the Karen hills and is drunk without milk, 
unless some one has brought home a can of condensed milk from 
town, this preparation being considered a most delicious sweet- 

Alcoholic beverages are brewed or distilled among the Karen. 
A kind of rice beer is made by allowing boiled rice to stand in jars 
of water and ferment. Old fermented rice is left in a jar, and fresh 
rice water is poured upon it. After standing several days, it ac- 

* The fire piston is used by the Ibans in Borneo. It is also found throuflrhout the Malay 
Peninsula and in Sumatra: Hose and MacDougall, Pagan Tribes of Borneo. 

^ "Chota hazri" is the Hindustani word used throughout India for the little breakfast of 
toast and tea or coffee that Europeans take immediately on rising. 


quires the desired strength or percentage of alcohol. Distilled 
liquor is obtained by boiling the fermented beverage in a closed 
vessel, from the top of which issues a bamboo pipe that leads to an- 
other vessel in which the steam condenses. A more concentrated 
solution of alcohol is thus secured. On the plains the glutinous 
rice, which is raised there, is much more commonly used in making 
liquor than the ordinary grain, because it contains a higher per- 
centage of sugar. The plains possess another source of intoxicant 
in the "toddy-palms." (See pp. 105 and 220.) The juice of these 
palms, which exudes from the cut stems of the fronds, is collected 
and allowed to ferment, thus producing a liquor that is responsible 
for much of the crime committed by the rural people of all races. 

In former days, in the more backward Karen districts and in 
Siam, the preparation of drink constituted a considerable part of 
the work of the women. It was used with every meal and was 
regarded as a necessary part of the native diet. Large quantities 
of liquor were provided for every festival. But its use is lessening 
among the more progressive natives and is rapidly disappearing 
among the Christian Karens. 

The use of betel and tobacco is prevalent among the Karen peo- 
ple. Indeed, one might say that it is almost universal among them. 
The betel-box is always carried on a journey and is ever at hand 
where work is being done. When the guest arrives, the first act of 
hospitality is to push the box, replenished with its masticatories, 
in front of him. Betel, in the estimation of the Karen, forms a 
part of his food. Small bits of the areca-nut are laid on a fresh 
green leaf of the piper betel vine ; lime is also smeared on the leaf, 
and perhaps a few cloves or shreds of tobacco leaf are added ; the 
betel leaf is then folded into a wad and put into the mouth. In the 
process of chewing this "quid" the saliva is turned to a bright red, 
being secreted in such quantity that frequent expectoration is nec- 
essary. Wherever this spittle falls it leaves a red stain. The in- 
terior walls of the houses, especially in the comers, and the floors 
near the cracks are much stained with red. It is not safe to stop 
under a window or beneath a house, unless one is sure that nobody 
is within. An early missionary, who traveled with a white pony, 
was surprised one morning to find his animal wonderfully streaked 
with red, which yielded only to a vigorous washing. Betel chewing 
stains the teeth black, though it does not materially injure them, 
except that the hard usage wears them down or causes them to 
break off prematurely. Karens often speak of a short space of 



time as being about a betel-chew which, strictly speaking, would 
mean fifteen or twenty minutes. The women in the hilla, instead 
of chewing the quid, allow it to remain on the tongue and mull it 
for hours at a time, much to the annoyance of any one trying to 
follow them in their conversation, which they keep up meantime. 
The areca-nut is cut up with a kind of scissors or a sickle. 
Some use a section of deer's horn about six inches long in breaking 


Kaben Tobacco Pipes a 

t decormt«d wit? 

Up these nuts. The horn is perforated by a hole large enough at one 
end to admit a whole nut, but considerably smaller at the other end. 
In being driven through this orifice the nut is broken into bits, 
which issue from the smaller opening. This nut-breaker is not 
used as much now as formerly. The areca-nuts and other supplies 
for betel chewing are kept in the ever present betel-box, which in 
the hills may be nothing more than an end of bamboo or, among 
those having due regard for the social amenities connected with the 
practice, is likely to be a round laquer receptacle or, in rare in- 


stances, even a brass box. These more pretentious containers are 
fitted with one or two trays, on which the supplies are conveniently 

The habit of tobacco smoking is almost as prevalent among: 
the Karen as that of betel chewing. It is indulged in by both sexes 
and all ages. The dried leaf is rolled into a rude cigar and smoked 
without further preparation. Pipes of various kinds are also used. 
The Karen analogue of the American corn-cob pipe is the simplest 
form, consisting of a short section of a small bamboo with a stem 
of the same inserted in the side. An approach to our brier-root 
pipe is made of a curved root of bamboo, nicely smoothed off and 
fitted with a stem of monkey-bone or silver. The bowl of this latter 
kind of pipe is sometimes supplied with a silver lining and has a 
silver wire wrapped around it by way of ornamentation. The or- 
dinary straight pipe may be etched with geometric figures in fine 
lines and with borders of saw-tooth and star designs. Designs in- 
cised on bamboo are found throughout the Malay countries, Borneo, 
and the Philippine Islands." 

n >t the left. On ( 

d M«cDoUEfll, PaBB" Tribf 


In the Hills 

The Karen's chief occupation is the cultivation of the most 
important article of his diet, namely, rice. Throughout the Orient 
this grain is called "paddy" during all the stages of its growth and 
curing, until it is husked and polished ready for cooking. The meth- 
od of cultivation in the hills is widely different from that on the 
plains. We shall consider the former first, as it is more primitive 
and, until recently, was practiced by far the larger number of the 
people. In Burma this more primitive method is often spoken of as 
the "ya" cultivation, from the Burmese word designating it. It is 
characteristic of this cultivation that a new hill field, called "hku" 
in Karen, has to be selected, cleared, and burned off each year. The 
planting of the grain must follow immediately after all seeds and 
small roots have been destroyed by fire, or no crop can be raised 
with the primitive implements in use, on account of the rapid resus- 
citation of the jungle. The ashes from the consumed vegetation 
act as a fertilizer, without which the crop would scarcely be worth 
the reaping. At the present time the Government so limits the 
areas open to the Karen for cultivation in some districts that a 
sufficient interval does not elapse between plantings to allow the 
growth of enough timber for the production of the ashes necessary 
to fertilize the soil properly. Hence, crop production is declining 
in these districts. At least seven years should intervene before a 
plot is cleared and planted a second time, and even this period is too 
short for the production of the best crops.^ 

^The "ya" cultivation, it ia obvious, is most destructive of the forests. Unsuccessful ef- 
forts have been put forth to induce the Karen in the hills to sive it up. It has been suggested 
that the people ke^ gardens and raise produce for sale. This proposal overlooks the lack of 
adequate roads for transporting the crops to market. The Karen are backward about engaging 
in new undertakings. They raise their food and obtain what else they need by barter. Until 
reeently this mode of living has suffigced for them. They have not been accustomed to handling 
money or making it last long. 

With the introduction of new ideas and the increase of mining concessions and forest 
restrictions, changes are inevitable and should be planned for, especially as the granting of new 
mining concessions will increase the number of outsiders. It has seemed to the present writer 
that "ya" cultivation might be limited to a term of years, during which a number of British 



When a crop has been harvested, the village chief and elders 
choose the ground to be cut over the following year. Each village 
has its well-recognized farming areas, beyond which are the lands 
of the neighboring village. Each member of the communtiy then 
picks out his particular plot for cultivating, takes home a lump of 
the earth, puts it under his pillow, and sleeps on it. If he has an 
auspicious dream, he consults the chicken bones for a confirmation 
of the good omen. Securing this confirmation, he regards his choice 
as fixed. Otherwise, he selects another plot and repeats the cere- 
monies. Once his selection is approved by the auspices, the spot 
is called a ''du la," and he clears a little space on the land, after 
which he addresses the spirits as follows : 

"Depart all you evil spirits (*ta we ta na'). 
We are going to work here for our food, 
To get sustenance for our wife and children. 
Let no sickness come upon us. 
We are going to work until it is finished." 

Next he places a lump of soil on the clearing and, having wrapped 
the chicken bones in the leaf of a creeper ("ki ku"), he touches the 
lump with them, raises them towards the sky, and again touches 
or strikes the clod with the mystic bones. He now breaks these 
apart and scrapes them until he can insert splints of bamboo into 
the holes of the bones. If this act of divination is also successful, 
he is ready for work. 

In the early days, when much of the primeval forest was still 
standing, the Karen would clear out the brush and bamboos from 
among the giant trees on the hillside they were preparing to culti- 
vate. Then they raised platforms at the foot of the trees from 
which they could cut them above the broad-spreading buttresses 
at their base, leaving enough of the trunk intact to keep them from 
falling. When the whole hillside tract had been cut over in this 
manner, they felled the uppermost tree so as to crash down on 
those just below, and these in turn would bring down others until 

officers, who should become familiar with the Karen people and languasre, should develop a plan 
in accordance with which these tribes might be sriven reservations of land in exchange for the 
valuable areas now under their control. These reservations might be either in the hills or on 
the plains, but the Karens should be taught to cultivate them according to approved methods, 
in order to gain an ample livelihood. Old racial animosities and the temptation for one people to 
exploit another militate against entrusting such a policy to Burman officials. It ought to be 
placed only in the hands of earnest, straightforward Government officials, who have gained the 
confidence of the Karen and are able to deal with them sympathetically but firmly. This general 
program would doubtless involve some outlay in supplying cattle, not to speak of competent 
instruction in modern agricultural methods, animal husbandry, etc. 


E Plot Cut Rbaoy Km Bubnino 


the whole mountain side seemed to be swept by a mighty avalanche, 
which resounded far and wide across the valleys, drowning the 
shouts of the people who were wild with excitement at seeing the 
culmination of the labor of weeks. The fallen timber and heaps 
of brush had still to lie for a fortnight or more in the hot sun until 
dry enough to bum. 

The buming-off process, which is always a necessary part of 
clearing the land as mentioned above, is preceded by its appropriate 
ritual, in order to prevent any wandering shades or "k'las" from 
being consumed. As a means of warding off evil, the ritualist ties 
up his wrists and, as he does so, invokes the "k'las" as follows : 

"Pru-u-u k'la, come back. Remain not in the forest, 
Nor in the places where the jungle is newly cut. 
Do not stay with evil demons. 
We are about to burn our cutting. 
Come back and stay in the house. Come back." 

In lighting the blaze, they do so with fire from bundles of twigs 
that have first been sprinkled with the blood of a fowl. The burn- 
ing is carefully watched, so that the fire may be kept from spread- 
ing to the surrounding forests. When bamboos are burned, the air 
in the hollow joints expands and bursts the stems with sharp re- 
ports. A burning field sounds like the fusillade of a battery of 
machine guns and affords as much delight to the Karen as a packet 
of firecrackers to a small boy. 

When the rains have begun, the villagers begin their planting. 
With a sharp stick or the point of a long knife ("dah") they make 
tiny holes in the soft ground about a foot apart and drop into each 
two or three seeds of paddy. The field is now called a "hku." About 
this time also each family builds the little hut in its plot of ground 
that is to serve both as a shelter and home until the harvest shall 
have been gathered. It is a rude affair made of a few bamboos, 
either saved when the field was cleared or newly brought from the 
jungle, and consists of a platform, roof, and loosely fitted sides. 

When the paddy has sprouted and tinged the hillside with 
green, another ceremony ("theh a khii") must be performed. Offer- 
ings of liquor and a fowl, which has been cooked at home, are placed 
upon an altar with a platform and roof, built upon six posts. 
The platform consists of two parts, the upper, enclosed like a minia- 
ture hut and the lower, open like a porch. Sometimes a second altar 
is erected upon four posts and is called "ta th' mo." Close by the 
first altar a flaring basket ("ta theh") is set up, which is made 


of splints woven through the split end of a bamboo, the other end 
of which is planted in the ground, and a similar ''ta theh" is placed 
in front of the altar. A cup containing some rice mixed with chaff, 
from which projects a little bambo branch, is put upon the altar. 
The little branch is a "hto bo" or pole. Water is now poured over 
the offerings, and the cup of liquor brought from the house is placed 
at the foot of the altar posts. Along the path leading to the altar 
sharp bamboo spikes are set, following a custom said to have been 
handed down from earlier times, to prevent wild elephants from 
disturbing the offerings. When all these preparations have been 
completed, the spikes and the altar are smeared with the blood of 
a fowl, and the spirits are again addressed: 

"Let this cool you and please you, Lord of the hills, Lord 
of the land. Lord of fire, Lord of heat and cold. I am making 
you cool and comfortable. Therefore, moderate the heat of the soil 
and make the paddy good. Make the rice good. Do this until the 
field is full." 

If there is a second altar, its posts are smeared with the blood 
of another fowl, while the suppliant prays : 

"I am offering you that which is good, that which is comfort- 
ing. Therefore make the rice and paddy good, and cause it to fill 
the whole field." 

An offering of a live chicken, with its legs tied together, is 
laid in the basket near the larger altar, while the following words 
are uttered : 

"I have prepared this for you. I am doing you good. I am 
making it comfortable for you. When the eagle flies, the crow is 
afraid. When the laughing-bird laughs and the barking-deer barks, 
let us not fear their bad omens." 

The suppliant now bums the feathers off of the dead fowls; 
lays down five yam leaves ; cuts bits of the tip of the bill from each, 
treating the nails and extremities of the wings in the same 
way; carefully distributes the different clippings from each fowl 
on each of the leaves, together with a morsel of rice and, finally, 
disposes one of the leaves upon each of the three offering-places 
mentioned above, besides one upon the roof of the hut and one upon 
a stump in the field. Then he dips a cup of liquor and, holding it 
aloft, pours out a libation, saying as he does so : 

"Come partake of your liquor and your rice. Make the rice and 
paddy better. May we work and eat in comfort and pleasure. Let 



US not be overtaken by illness. May we work until the task is 
finished and eat to the end." 

After examining the bones of the sacrificial fowls to learn their 
omens, the suppliant and his family cook and eat the chickens. 
He then weaves a basket with large meshes and on a leaf laid in the 
bottom places a black pepper and sprinkles some salt. He takes a 
small branch from an upright-growing plant and, moving about in 
the growing grain, strikes both the grain and the basket, which 
he is carrying, and recites this prayer : 

"O Guardian Bird of the field, do not let anything eat the 
paddy in the plot where you watch. Do not let men come in or go 
out. Do not permit any one who may get in to redeem himself with 
money, but cause him to expiate his transgression by increasing 
the yield of grain." 

Then, cutting off the head of another fowl, he smears its blood 
on the basket, which he sets down in the path near the edge of the 
field, and returns to his house. 

In many places these rites are not now so carefully observed 
as the above account implies. Sometimes the larger altar is dis- 
pensed with altogether, and the offerings are placed upon the little 
altar and in the flaring baskets. Where the elaborate ceremonial is 
dying out, a single fowl may be used in place of several as an obla- 
tion sufficient to please the spirits and secure a plentiful harvest. 
In the illustration on page 74, from a photograph taken in the Pegu 
Yomas, are shown the various offerings, including the live chicken 
that has been left on a post to die. The flaring baskets with the 
other offerings are also shown. The bamboo reaching above the 
other things was set up to mark the height which, it was hoped, 
the paddy might attain. 

Having sought the favor of the unseen powers that preside 
over the growing crop, the cultivator has soon to turn his attention 
to the numerous enemies that prey upon his field from the neighbor- 
ing jungle. Elephants, wild pigs, and a number of small animals, 
including rats, eat the tender plants and later feed on the ripen- 
ing grain. Birds and wild fowl of various kinds are also destructive 
from the time the grain is in the milk. Supplication to the Guardian 
Bird of the field does not relieve the rice-grower from the need of 
fencing his plot with reeds and bamboos, setting traps and snares, 
and erecting scarecrows and clappers to keep devouring creatures 
from his grain. Little hoeing is done, but the Karen and his whole 
family occupy themselves in watching the growing paddy, operating 


the clappers, and clearing the traps. When wild elephants appear in 
the field, those on guard are unable to do more than produce affright- 
ing noises from a safe distance, in the hope that the great animals 
will be scared away before they have destroyed the entire crop. 

As soon as the rains are over in October the hill rice ripens 
very quickly, and the harvest-time is near. Among some of the 
people it is the custom for the eldest member of the family to reap 
a little of the grain as the first fruit, as it were, of the season's 
produce. After this has been done, the whole family take part in 
the reaping. (See page 89.) The implement used is a sickle ("xeh"), 
the long handle of which bends backward from the grip, the tool 
as a whole having the shape of the letter S. The outer end of the 
sickle extends under the arm of the reaper, enabling him to cut 
with greater ease than if he depended only on his wrist muscles. 
The grain is cut about half-way down the stalks and is tied in small 
sheaves no larger than can be easily grasped with one hand. Even 
though all the paddy in the plot could be cut in one day, a fraction 
is left for reaping until the next morning, in order to have the crop 
good and make it last longer. The sheaves are thrown into piles, 
and then collected near the hut, where they are beaten out. In 
some places the sheaves are beaten over the edge of a trough im- 
provised from half of a hollow log, and in others they are beaten 
over a horizontal pole tied by withes to two bamboo posts, the pole 
being about three feet above the ground. A large bamboo mat is 
spread down under the pole or the trough, as the case may be, to 
catch the grain. Those who engage in the beating are careful 
to tie up their wrists and call in the "k'las" or wandering shades. 
They also deem it necessary to complete the threshing before they 
leave the place. Both men and women or either alone serve as 
threshers. When the paddy has all been beaten out, it is winnowed 
by holding it aloft in a tray or basket and letting it fall, while the 
wind carries the chaff to one side and the grain falls on the mat. 
(See page 91.) The grain is now ready to be stored in a bin built in 
the field or along the path leading to the village. In the districts 
inhabited only by Karens these bins are to be found along the 
jungle trails a mile or more from any village or house. Stealing is 
very uncommon in these regions and is severely punished if de- 
tected.^ In the Pegu Hills near the Burmese the same security 
does not exist, and the paddy is stored within the village stockade. 

* See pases 27, 149. 


Plowing a PADDi-nEU> in Lowek B 

WoiuH TBANBnuutTnia Pasdi 
iti into Uw »ft mud. ind thcr ETDw without (orther «tt«)tioe. 


The grain is carried in baskets on the backs of the beaters (see 
p. 94) and is poured slowly into the bin so as not to settle com- 
pactly. Should a basket slip and fall into the bin or its contents 
be dashed in, a fowl must be killed and an offering made. The 
storing of grain must be finished as speedily as possible ; but if it 
can not be done in one day, the workers may rest over night. 

The task of storing finished, they bring an offering for "Hpi Bi 
Yaw," ^ consisting of a clod of earth, a morsel of rice, and a small cup 
of liquor. These are placed on the paddy in the bin, and a prayer 
of thanksgiving is said to her. After these ceremonies the culti- 
vator feels at liberty to take grain from his store and carry it home 
for food. 

A small supply of paddy is always put aside in a special basket 
for seed, each family preserving its own, which is supposed to date 
back to a time when its forbears had an unusually good crop in some 
favorable year. Only in the last extremity will a Karen eat his seed- 
grain. There are many varieties of rice having their special names, 
each cherished by particular localities and families. Hill rice is 
greatly prized as being more delicious than plains rice. 

The Karen raise different kinds of vegetables in their rice- 
fields, such as certain varieties of gourds, beans, yams, a kind of 
sweet potato, and peppers of various sorts, especially the red chili 
so generally used for condiment. Cotton is also grown in the fields 
along with the rice, standing until long after the paddy has been 
reaped. The cotton is usually considered to be the women's crop. 
They tend it, gather the bolls, and carry them home. The other 
products of the field seem to belong to all members of a family 
alike. The tips of various plants are used for greens. These must 
be plucked with the fingers and not cut off with a sharp instrument, 
inasmuch as the spirits dislike their being dissevered with a knife. 
A few plants of cockscomb are grown in the field, the red variety 
("hpaw ghaw") being preferred to the yellow, because they are 
supposed to dazzle the eyes of the demons and prevent their harm- 
ing the crop. In the lower hills sesame is often raised for its 
seeds, which are threshed out and sold to the Burmese, who press 
the oil out of them. This is serviceable in cooking and lighting. It 
is said to be not unlike linseed oil in certain respects, but supplies 
a large amount of the fats required in curries. 

In the Toungoo and Shwegyin Hills great quantities of betel- 
nuts are grown. These regions furnish, I believe, the greater part 

3 The divinity who presides over the cultivation of the paddy: see page 226. 


of the supply of these nuts for all Burma. The trees bearing them 
are tall slender palms (Areca Catechu), which flourish in moist 
mountain valleys where they are shaded by larger trees. The nuts 
grow in clusters just below the crown of leaves. A tree may pro- 
duce as many as four hundred nuts a year, which are sold in 
baskets at three or four rupees a basket. There are several gar- 
dens that number these palms by the thousands and many others 
by the hundreds. 

Plantain gardens are cultivated on the bottom-lands near the 
rivers, where there are rich alluvial deposits. Plantains or bananas, 
of which many varieties exist, are comprised in the genus Musa. 
The stem grows from four to fifteen feet in height and produces 
sprouts, which are set out at the end of the rainy season and begin 
to bear by the next year. The new plants send out sprouts in their 
turn, these growing from the sides of the herb and continuing its 
life indefinitely. Some varieties of the plantain in the hill-country 
bear very delicious fruit, which I have almost never seen on the 
plains. As far as I know it is raised for home consumption, al- 
though it may be sold in a few cases to Burman and Shan traders 
for a small price. 

In the Toungoo and Moulmein districts oranges are extensively 
grown. The groves are along the well-watered valleys, and the 
fruit is ripe in late September and in October. Nothing has been 
done, so far as I am aware, to improve the varieties, but a ready 
market is open to the fruit produced. The Karens bring the supply 
down to Toungoo in dugouts, and sell it to traders on the river 
bank at prices varying from one to three or four rupees per hun- 
dred, according to the size and quality of the fruit. 

A few years ago coffee was widely planted in the Toungoo dis- 
trict; but a blight ruined the greater part of the groves, and the 
industry ceased to develop. A little is still raised here and there, 
but it is of an inferior grade. 

Tobacco is grown along the sandy banks of the rivers, not in 
large quantities but sufficient for home consumption and petty 
trading. It is cured in the most primitive way and consumed in 
many forms. 

I have been informed that in the early days the Karen trained 
the vines of the betel leaf creeper (Piper Betel) to run up a cer- 
tain kind of rough-barked tree, which a few vines would completely 
cover with their glossy green foliage, supplying a large crop of 
leaves and thereby a considerable income for the possessor of such 


a vine-clad tree, which was called "pu la." Wanderers of other 
nationalities, happening to discover such trees, dispoiled them of 
their treasure by cutting the vines. Thus, but very few "pu la" 

Dr. Mason tells us that ''Karen boys and maidens engaged in 
harvesting these leaves with great zest and it was not uncommon 
for young men, in seeking companions to inquire who were the 
most agile climbers of *pu la' or betel leaf trees." * 

The Karen in Toungoo have always raised more or less silk 
and woven the material for their best garments from it. The silk- 
worms are of a native variety and spin a thread far inferior to that 
of improved species. Not many years ago the attempt was made 
to introduce a worm of larger size, but it met with ill success, be- 
cause the creature made a peculiar creaking sound in chewing the 
leaves of the mulberry tree. The superstitious people thought the 
new worms were possessed of some strange demon and killed 
them, in order to ward off an unknown danger. 

Many of the inhabitants of Karenni gather stick-lac, which is 
the deposit of an insect on certain trees found in the jungle. They 
also increase the supply by attaching the insects to other trees. 
The deposit is used extensively in making red dyes ° and is market- 
ed in Toungoo on the twigs to which it is attached. 

The Karen is skilled in all jungle-craft. He knows the woods 
and what may be found there. He has learned, among other things, 
that bees establish their hives high up in the branches of the oil- 
tree (Dipterocarpiis lociis). When he finds a new hive he marks 
the tree by putting a tuft of grass at its foot. Others will recog- 
nize the mark and respect his claim. To climb the fifty or seventy- 
five feet to the lower branches of these giant trees is no easy task. 
However, it is accomplished by means of pegs driven into the trunk 
and a rope encircling it. Often a honey-gatherer makes his ascent 
at night, lest he grow dizzy in looking down from such a height. 
Once at the hive, he smokes the bees out with a smudge and collects 
the honey into joints of large bamboo. The Karen villagers in the 
vicinity of Thandaung used to be called "Wild Bees" by the Bur- 
mans of Toungoo, on account of the supplies of honey which they 
brought in from their hills. 

Besides the pursuits already mentioned, the Karen of the hills 
sometimes engage in other occupations, such as transporting pro- 

* British Burma, Its People and Productions, p. 495. 
^ Sec page 110. 


duce and luggage from the town into the hill-country or to trading 
centers. They cover long distances, and before the recent war they 
received about eight annas (about twenty-four cents) a day for 
such work. In a few villages they raise oxen, which they train as 
pack-animals to carry grain and other produce of the hills to Toun- 
goo or other markets. With two baskets slung on either side of a 
rough pack-saddle, these oxen can carry not more than one hundred 
and fifty or two hundred pounds each. 

Karen men are experts at catching and training elephants and 
often become most excellent drivers for these intelligent beasts. 
Several travelers testify that Karen drivers seemed to be more 
gentle with, and careful of, their elephants than Burman drivers 
and acknowledge the pleasure which they derived from seeing the 
Karens handle their charges. Owners of elephants are usually 
employed by the Government Forest Department to draw logs out 
of the jungle to the streams, by the current of which they are 
floated down during the rainy season. This is a lucrative business, 
but the risk involved is large, because the elephants often sicken 
and need attention to restore them to working condition. 

In some localities forest officers have employed Karens living 
in the hills to tend the adjacent forest reserves. But the Karen has 
a distaste for steady work under supervision, especially if the im- 
mediate overseer is a Burman. The latter usually does not hesitate 
to exhibit his feeling of superiority and to appropriate an undue 
share of the rewards. Only in a few instances have I known satis- 
factory results to be obtained through such an arrangement; but 
the few officers who did secure satisfactory results had a good word 
to speak for the Karen. 

On THE Plains 

The Karen on the plains in Burma practice methods of culti- 
vation like those of the Burmese, which have often been described. 
When the rainy season is about to begin in May the cultivator, if 
his land is at a distance from the village, carries thither a few 
bamboos and some thatch and builds a hut in his field. Here he 
lives during the cultivating season. The rains having softened the 
hard clay soil, he may resort to the very primitive practice of driv- 
ing a few cattle or buffaloes around over a muddy place until they 
cut the ground with their sharp hoofs and thus prepare it, after a 
fashion, to receive the seedlings. Or he may use the method of 


scratching the ground with a primitive wooden plow, called a 
"hteh." During recent years, however, iron points have been im- 
ported which make these implements more effective. If there is 
considerable water, he has still a third alternative, namely, to use 
a kind of rough harrow, named a "hto tu." (See page 83.) 

Previously, and as early as possible, the cultivator has prepared 
a small plot in which he has sown his paddy seed. When the plants 
have reached about a cubit's height, they are pulled up, tied in 
sheaves, and carried to the water-soaked field to be set out. This 
work is done either by the members of the family or by women 
hired for the purpose. It requires about five persons to transplant 
an acre in a day, their compensation being approximately eight 
annas a day each. The process of transplanting consists merely 
in sticking the plants into the mud, usually by hand but some- 
times with a forked stick. (See illustration on page 83.) 

After this has been completed, little remains but to regulate 
the quantity of water on the fields by opening or closing the small 
dikes enclosing the plots. Later, when the grain is in the milk, 
birds are often rapacious, and I have seen Karens scaring them off 
their fields with a kind of slingshot. With this device they throw 
mud balls ("naw blii tha") from which a stalk of grass trails, flut- 
tering and whirring as it flies, to the confusion of a flock of sparrows 
or weaver-birds. Larger balls, moulded and dried beforehand, have 
a hole through the middle. The air whistles through this when the 
ball is in swift motion, and big flocks of birds are badly scared by it. 
The slingshot, with which these two sorts of missiles are cast, con- 
sists of a bamboo of four or five feet in length with a rope attached, 
the missile being hurled from the end of the rope. It flies with 
amazing swiftness and to a great distance. 

In October the rainy season is at an end, the ground begins to 
dry, the paddy turns a golden yellow or, as the Karen say, "becomes 
red," and by the first of December is about ready to be reaped. If 
it is not already leaning over, a man walks through it with a long 
heavy bamboo and pushes the stalks all in one direction to an angle 
of about forty-five degrees, so that it will be easier to cut. (See p. 
89.) With sickles like those used in the hills, the members of 
the family reap in the direction in which the stalks are bent and 
bind the grain in sheaves about a foot in diameter. The average 
reaper will cut one hundred and fifty sheaves a day, but the best 
workers have a record of two hundred and fifty. Nowadays the 
sheaves are usually collected on the same day they are cut, and 


Reapiho Paddy With SicKLm 


carried to the threshing-floor, which is near the hut or, in the case 
of the fields lying near the village, is just outside the village gate. 
If they should be left in the field, they might not be there next 
morning. The pile of sheaves is always guarded, some of the men 
spending the night on it. They also take the precaution to hang up 
a gourd with a hole in it which, with a breeze blowing, emits sounds 
like mumbled voices. 

The threshing-floor is a plot of ground perhaps a hundred feet 
square, or larger in proportion to the quantity of grain to be trod- 
den out, which has been packed hard and flat by leading cattle 
around on it, or by using a cart or a drag for the purpose. (See p. 
89.) A smoother surface is secured, not unlike that of a dirt tennis- 
court, by covering the floor with a coating of cow-dung. The name 
applied to the threshing-floor is "flaw," which is a corruption of the 
Burmese word "talin." The paddy sheaves are piled up in tiers 
around the "flaw" so as to shed water, should untimely showers 
fall before they are trodden out. For the threshing, however, the 
sheaves are distributed evenly over the floor to a depth of two feet 
with the heads of the grain on top. Banks of sheaves support the 
sides of the layers. The' process of separating the grain from the 
heads is a tedious one. From two to a dozen cattle are tied together, 
and a boy or girl or, if neither of these, is at hand, a woman takes 
the nose rope of the animal nearest him and stands in the center of 
the floor. The threshing often begins soon after midnight and con- 
tinues until sunrise, the cattle being constantly prodded on their 
apparently endless round. At the conclusion of the tiresome task 
the other members of the family appear, remove the bulk of the 
straw, sweep up the smaller fragments, and begin to winnow the 
grain. This is accomplished either by holding it aloft in a 
basket and letting the wind blow off the chaff as it falls, or by pour- 
ing the grain and chaff from a platform four or five feet into a 
loosely-woven tray swung from a tripod of bamboos. To insure that 
all the chaff and dust are driven off, men and women fan the grain 
with closely-woven trays as it falls upon the pile. (See p. 91.) 
The winnowing process being finished, an offering for "Hpi Bi 
Yaw" « (the Karen Ceres) is placed on the apex of the pile. Lest 
any one should try to help himself to the grain, little tufts of char- 
red straw are put at close intervals around the pile, after which 
those who have been doing all this dusty work unwrap their heads, 
repair to the village well or tank and indulge in a refreshing bath. 

« See pp. 84. 98. 226 


Win NOW I NO Padoy 

The sniD ■ (Wared throush ■ tltve in order to 

wind tun bLow oiT the chaiT n 

FtKHrNo TMB Padoy 


In these days it is the usual practice to sell the grain to the 
traders directly from the threshing-floor. Sometimes it is stored 
for a few months in the hope of an advance in price, but most of the 
smaller cultivators are compelled by their poverty to sell at once. 
The buyers may be Burmans, but in these later years are more 
often Chinese. A few Karens have done some trading in paddy, 
although they are generally not so successful as the traders of the 
other nationalities. 

The grain kept for family use is stored in bins of bamboo made 
in the shape of great baskets or "weh." These "weh" vary in size 
from those having double the diameter of a bushel-basket up to the 
huge ones of ten or twelve feet in diameter and of equal height. 
They are set upon platforms several feet above the ground and 
adjoining or close to the house. The planks forming the bottom 
are firmly secured together and coated with cow-dung. After a bin 
has been filled, the top is covered with a layer of straw, well packed 
in, and a thick coating of cow-dung is spread over it to seal the 

It is not my purpose in this work to enter into a detailed eco- 
nomic study of Karen agriculture. Here I have but a few observa- 
tions to offer. Under the conditions obtaining just before the World 
War, the economic outlook for the Karen cultivator was none too 
good. The Karen people are no more provident than the Burmese. 
At the beginning of the season they borrow money, for which they 
must pay one hundred baskets of paddy for fifty rupees of money .^ 
If they have no oxen of buffaloes of their own they must hire them, 
paying from fifty to sixty rupees a yoke for the former and ten 
rupees additional each for the latter. To hire a man to work in the 
rainy season and to plow costs about the same as paying for the 
use of a team of oxen. If he is employed until the threshing is 
finished, he costs another fifty rupees. The yield per acre varies 
all the way from twenty-five to seventy baskets, according to the 
quality of the land and whether a little manure has been used or 
not. For many years the price of paddy remained close to one 
hundred rupees for one hundred baskets, being sometimes a little 
below and at others a few rupees above that price. Before the 
war competition and speculation had forced the price up gradually, 
until it reached a maximum of one hundred and thirty-five rupees. 

"^ The size of baskets varies in different districts, ransrinsr in capacity from forty to sixty 
pounds. Those having: a capacity of forty-six pounds are now considered to be of standard 
size. As the price varies inversely with the size, the result is about the same. 


No one can presume to predict the outcome of the present unset- 
tled conditions. We can only hope that better days are in store for 
the cultivators, whether Burman or Karen. 

If, before the war, a man owned his field and cattle without 
encumberance or other debts, he could till some twenty acres and 
make a comfortable living for himself and family. If, however, he 
was under the necessity of borrowing money and hiring men and 
cattle, he could hardly keep his head above water. 

There are some Karens who own large fields. They may have 
acquired them by careful management, by purchase, or by fore- 
closing loans. Many of these proprietors make a business of 
hiring out their fields to men who cultivate them at a rental of from 
ten to fifteen baskets of paddy per acre, the cultivator supplying 
his own materials and help. In case the owner has oxen, he rents 
them at the usual price. In addition, he usually makes a loan of 
cash to his tenant, on which he gets a big return, namely, a hundred 
baskets of paddy for the sum of fifty rupees for six months. If the 
tenant borrows from a money-lender, he has to pay anywhere from 
fifteen to fifty percent a year for it. 

On the plains the cultivator is almost entirely dependent on his 
single crop of paddy. If high water has washed out his first set- 
tings, there is not time enough left to raise other produce after 
the water has disappeared. Under these circumstances they some- 
times plant sesame, but it requires only a little less time to ma- 
ture than paddy. The lack of water in the dry season renders 
cultivation impossible without extensive irrigation. 

Along the river-bottoms may be found a few plantain groves, 
patches of tobacco, sugar-cane, or vegetables ; but these are unusual 
sights. They may add a little to the cultivator's income. But very 
few persons derive their chief support from such gardens. 

The Karen on the plains do not observe the old religious cus- 
toms of the hill people. Many times they resort to Burmese sooth- 
sayers to prognosticate the proper times for planting, reaping, and 
other tasks. Not a few, however, follow the old ceremonies in 
greater or less part. A ceremonial similar to "theh a hkii" in the 
hills ^ is observed on the plains where it is designated "mo a si." 
It is performed when the paddy is set out. Offerings are seldom 
seen along the paths in this region, but when the paddy has been 
winnowed an offering is made to "Hpi Bi Yaw" by transferring the 
rim of earth around a crab's burrow to the summit of the pile of 

® See ante, pp. 78, 79. 


« Lame Baskets 


paddy. A few paddy heads or even a few leaves of the ginger plant 
may be inserted in the burrow as a talisman to make the supply of 
paddy last the year out. The oblation on the threshing-floor or a 
similar one is then put on top of the paddy in the bin. 

The Karen who is untouched by outside influence does not like 
to take up any other occupation than that of raising paddy. He 
regards his other pursuits as occasional and accessory, including the 
gathering of forest products, such as stick-lac and wild honey and 
the sale of fruit from the few mango trees he may possess. He has 
not been found satisfactory as a day-laborer or coolie for any con- 
tinued work ; he avoids hiring out as a cartman and does not suc- 
ceed as a petty trader. In more extensive business he has achieved 
success in only a few instances. With the advantages of education, 
however, a few have prospered in commercial life and other callings. 
Many have entered Government service and risen to positions of 
trust. A large percentage of those who have passed through the 
schools are clerks and teachers. One of the largest department 
stores in Rangoon employs Karen clerks with satisfaction, besides 
Europeans. Educated Karen girls take employment as teachers 
and nurse-maids, and recently a few have been engaging in clerical 


Th*H hMV7 ■nlin«li an culljr raaiMaed t 
triEht«o«d by Iha prewni 


There is nothing in which a Karen delights so much as to 
hunt, unless it be the gastronomic pleasures that follow a success- 
ful chase. Schoolboys spend their Saturdays in the jungle with their 
slingshots and blowpipes. Teachers and clerks spend their holidays 
in the same way. The villager may go by himself to stalk deer or 
shoot birds and other game along the runways ; but the sport that 
he enjoys most is the drive for game, which is abundant in the 
hills of Burma, participated in by all the men of the village armed 
with their weapons and nets. A promising place is chosen, such as 
the open end of a ravine, where some of the hunters stretch and 
make fast their nets and retire into an ambush near at hand. 
The others of the party go to the far end of the area included in the 
drive and begin to beat the bushes with their spears and knives, 
while shouting and making a great noise generally. The game is 
thus driven from cover to the nets, where it usually gets entangled 
and is soon dispatched by the spears and crossbows of the men 
waiting there. Nearly all kinds of game are caught in this manner, 
from rabbits to tigers and elephants. Pigs and deer are, however, 
most commonly hunted in this way. This is men's sport, and the 
women never take part in it, so far as I know. The game is di- 
vided among the hunters, each sharing more or less equally. If 
any parts of a carcass are supposed to possess medicinal value, 
they are appropriated by the one who killed the animal and dis- 
tributed by him as he thinks best. 

Besides the ordinary weapons used in warfare and described 
in the chapter dealing with that subject, the Karen employ in the 
chase the blow-gun, the crossbow, the bow, and the spear. The 
blow-gun is similar to that used in Malaysia, Borneo, and the Philip- 
pine Islands, but is not decorated as are those of the Malay tribes. 
The implement consists of a ten or twelve-foot length of a slim va- 
riety of bamboo, the tube or bore of which is the size of a small 
pencil. The length is first straightened by being hung from a tree 
with a weight of stones or logs to the bottom end. The transverse 



membranes at the joints are then drilled out with a sharp stick of 
hard wood, and small arrows are shaped and smoothed to fit ac- 
curately the bore of the blow-gun, the rear end of each arrow being 
tufted with a circle of feathers. A quick expulsion of the breath 
against one of these missiles inserted in the long tube drives it with 
sufficient force to kill small birds and game at a distance of a few 
yards. To use the implement effectively one must be able to stalk 
the game noiselessly and to bring the weapon to bear on it una- 
wares. This gun may have been copied from Burman guns, for I 
do not find it in the hills.^ The Karen hunters do not seem to be 
as skilful in its use as are the tribesmen of the Philippines, Borneo, 
and the Malay States. 

The crossbow ("hkli") is one of the favorite implements for 
hunting among the Karen, but never seems to have found favor 
with them as a fighting weapon.^ 

The stock is made of some firm wood and has a small handle, 
like that of a cheek-gun.^ Its entire length is not more than three 
feet. The bow is shaped out of cutch wood ("nya"), which is very 
tough and resilient. It varies in length, but is usually about four 
feet. The string is twisted fibre, generally that of the roselle plant 
(Hibiscus sabdariffa). The bow is so strong that sometimes it 
takes two men to bend it, the string being held back by a rough 
trigger. The arrows consist of straight pieces of bamboo sharpened 
and slightly charred in the fire at one end to harden them, while 
they are tufted with feathers or fitted with a slip of dry palm or 
plantain leaf at the other end, which is bound around with string. 
Sometimes the arrow tips are barbed or supplied with flat iron 
points, and sometimes they are smeared with a thick gum taken from 
the Upas tree (Antiaris ovalfLoria), which is indigenous to Burma. 
This species of tree is similar to that from which the Malay and 
Borneo tribes obtain poison for their arrows. The milky juice ex- 
udes from incisions made in the bark of the tree and drys into a 
dark viscous gum, which is very bitter. This poison is supposed 
to be more virulent if gathered at certain times of the year. After 
being smeared with the poisonous substance, the arrow-tip is al- 

^ For a discussion of the blow-gun, see Skeat and Blasrden, Pagan Races of the Malay 
Peninsula, Vol. I, 264-267. 

' The crossbow is found all over Yunnan amonsr the Lisu and the Lolo. It is used in 
China, having been evidently adopted from the Lolo, as its name there indicates. It is not seen 
in Tibet, or is it used by the Burmese or by the Malay tribes, except as a toy by the children 
in Borneo: Hose and MacDousrall. The Pagan Races of Borneo, Vol. I, 46. The crossbow does 
not seem to be found in the Philippine Islands. 

* See p. 158. 


lowed to dry for a short time; but if kept too long it loses its 
noxious quality. 

The crossbow will send an arrow thirty or forty yards with 
considerable accuracy. Those skilled in the use of the weapon can 
shoot to a greater range. The arrow will pierce the body of a man 
or a tiger and sometimes protrude on the other side. When 
wounded by a poisoned dart the Bwe may bind up the wound with 
the juice from young bamboo shoots, but he immediately tries to 
obtain what he considers a good antidote, namely, the hog-plum 
(Spondiics mangifera), which he eats either dry or green. Failing 
to find this remedy, he resorts to alum. The Paku tribesmen eat a 
little of the poisonous gum itself, thus producing vomiting, which 
seems to counteract the effect of the poison in the wound. They 
sometimes apply alum to the injured part and bind it up. The Bur- 
mese, who greatly fear the consequences of being infected with the 
poison, poultice the wound with white sweet potato, which they 
chew into a paste for the purpose.* 

The Karen have a kind of bow that resembles in general the 
long bow used in the English Army back in the fourteenth cen- 
tury. It is called "hki p' ti" and is fashioned of bamboo with elas- 
tic ends, being fitted with two parallel strings held an inch apart 
by little struts of bamboo. A tiny mat is plaited between the 
strings at the center to hold the pebbles or mud balls that are used 
instead of arrows. A block of hard wood, some four inches long and 
an inch and a half wide, is lashed to the middle of the bow. This 
serves as a handle by which a twisting motion is imparted to the 
bow^ when it is sprung, thus enabling the ball or pebble to pass to 
one side of the bow-shaft. This weapon is much used by children 
in shooting birds and small animals. 

The trap is one of several automatic contrivances which the 
Karen fashion and leave in places frequented by birds or animals 
for their capture. Besides the spring trap, there are the box trap 
and the pitfall. As the name of the last contrivance suggests, the 
pitfall is a large hole that has been dug deep enough to prevent an 
animal from jumping out, once it has fallen in. All traces of the 
digging are obliterated, and the top is covered with branches and 

^ Cf. Mason, British Burma, 489. For an account of the poison made in Borneo from the 
Ipoh (Antiaris toxicaria) see Hose and MacDouKall, Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. I, 218. Skeat 
and Blasrdon, in Pagan Tribes of the Malay Peninsula, Vol. I, Chap. VI, pp. 242, flf., give an 
account of the preparation of poisons employed by the various tribes of that country. But a map 
of the area in which the poisons are used does not include Burma, probably because their use 
among: the Karen was unknown to the writers. 


twigs and then disguised with leaves. The unsuspecting animal, 
going in search of water, steps on the insecure footing and falls 
through. As its efforts to escape are unavailing, it is soon found 
and dispatched by the spears and arrows of the hunters. 

The box trap is a rude box-like structure varying in size from 
those built to catch rats to one, which I saw, designed to put an end 
to the prowlings of a tiger. They are laid up like a miniature log 
cabin, with an opening either at one end or on top. A dog or some 
other live bait is tied inside of the larger traps, and when the wild 
animal jumps in to seize the decoy, he must needs touch the string 
attached to the trigger that supports a trap-door weighted with 
stones or logs. The door is thus released, falls, and closes the open- 
ing. Oftener the door of such a trap is made from a tree with thorny 
bark, and the game only wounds itself by struggling to get out. 
There is usually little chance to escape for an animal caught in 
one of these traps.' (See lower illustration on page 100.) 

The spring trap, commonly called in Karen "wa hkaw," ® is 
built across an opening in a game-run or in a fence around a paddy- 
field. It is fitted with a single spear. The name "meu" is applied 
to a larger trap of this kind, which has a row of bamboo spears. 
A description of the former will suffice to show the plan and oper- 
ation of the trap, which, we will assume, is built across a game- 
run. At some spot in the jungle, where the runway can be narrowed 
to a mere opening by driving a few bamboos into the ground on 
either side, the spring trap is set up. It consists of a bamboo spear 
some five feet long projecting horizontally through a hole in a 
bamboo post, its point but a few inches from the opening through 
which the animal must pass. The shaft of the spear reaches back 
several feet to the end of a stiff bamboo pole, also in horizontal po- 
sition and nearly at right angles to the spear. The function of this 
pole, which is rigidly fastened to a tree or heavy post at its butt 
end, is to thrust the spear forward at the right moment. The free 
end of the pole moves along a horizontal rack or bar and, when 
pulled back, is held by a catch. A stout string fastened to this 
catch is stretched across the opening in such a way that the animal 

" The similarity of these traps to those of Malaysia and Borneo is striking : see Hose 
and MacDonirall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. I, 145, ff : Skeat and Blasrdon, Pagan Races of 
the Malay Peninsula, Vol. I, 206, ff. 

* The name "wa hkaw" is taken from the spear that forms an essential feature of this 
kind of trap. The head of the spear is of bamboo, being cut from the side of a large piece. 
The hard sil:cious skin of the bamboo is left on to form the cutting edges of the spear. The 
Karen have different names for different sizes of these traps, which are set for smaller or 
larger game from wildcats to tigers. 


er hida in the pile ot atraii •. 
droD the lid. One hunilred an 


emerging will run into the string, lift the catch, and thereby re- 
ceive the thrust of the spear in its body. (See page 100.) 

Small animals, such as squirrels and rats, are killed by means 
of a heavy pole, one end of which is propped up from the ground 
just inside a tight fence enclosing or partly enclosing a field. 
Lengths of large bamboo lead the rodents through holes in the 
fence, and as they emerge on the inside they have to push by a 
string which releases the little prop under the log. Such traps are 
called "tu." 

A small trap for catching rats consists of a joint of large 
bamboo fitted with a trigger like that on English steel traps, the 
trigger being connected with a bow of bamboo that fits over the 
open end of the section. The bow is opened, bait is placed inside, 
and the trigger is set. The rat enters, touches the food, the bow 
springs down over the open end, and he is imprisoned inside. 

Birds are caught in a box trap similar to the one described on 
page 99, but of lighter construction and larger dimensions. In the 
specimen shown in the illustration (page 100) one hundred and 
twenty-seven pigeons were taken at one fall, I was told. It was 
set near the paddy threshing-mat, and a line of grain led the birds 
into it. The man who was watching the trap lay concealed in a 
pile of straw a few yards away and, when he saw the box well 
filled, pulled the string attached to the support upon which the end 
of the cover rested. The captured pigeons were killed by spear- 
thrusts through the cracks of their cage. 

Pigeons are also taken by means of bamboo cages divided into 
two compartments. A young bird, caught before it can fly, is 
placed in one of the compartments as a decoy ; and the cage, covered 
with green leaves, is hung near a tree in fruit to which the birds 
resort for food, or it is set near a field that is known to be a favor- 
ite feeding-ground of the pigeons. The calls of the decoy attract 
usually an aggressive male into the open compartment, the trig- 
ger snaps, and the door flies shut. Birdlime, made from the sap 
of certain varieties of the banyan, is smeared on twigs to catch 
small birds. 

Besides birdlime, cages, and box traps, various kinds of snares 
are utilized in capturing birds. A noose, made of tough fibre or 
hair, is hung over a path in the thick grass just high enough to 
catch the head of a pheasant or jungle-fowl as it walks along. 
Sometimes a series of standing snares or loops are used. A chain 


of twenty or thirty bamboo splints, each fitted with its own slip- 
noose, is staked on the ground by means of a spike of horn or bam- 
boo attached to one end of the chain. The nooses form a succession 
of wickets encircling perhaps a clump of grass or an open space in 
the jungle. Two or three such chains may be connected to describe 
a larger circle. In either case the circle is left open in the direc- 
tion from which the birds are expected to approach. Grain may 
be scattered along the path and into the circle, or a decoy cock may 
be tethered there. If a decoy is not used, a boy hides near at hand 
until the birds are within the ring and then starts them to 
running by coming into the open. Otherwise, they wander and pick 
about until startled by the decoy or something else. In trying to 
scurry away at least some of the flock thrust thqir heads through 
the open loops and pull them tighter and tighter by their struggles 
to escape. It only remains for the hunter to come and carry off 
his catches. 

In the Toungoo Hills the Karen hunt with dogs, which they 
know under the name of "htwi maw seh" and train for use in the 
chase. These dogs are small, smooth-haired, and allied to the ter- 
rier, and follow game with great tenacity. They are highly valued 
by the Karen, the price of a good one equaling that of an ordinary 
pony or buffalo. Deer are said to be so afraid of them that they 
lose strength when pursued by one of these curs and thus become 
an easy prey for the hunter. While in pursuit the dogs yelp 
continually. The hunter has only to follow them to be sure of 
his game in the end. They do not hesitate to trail a species of large 
snake, which is considered palatable eating by the Karen, but will 
not attack it. They will pull down a deer and set upon a bear or 
boar, but stand in fear of tigers and leopards. Indeed, they turn 
back from the track of a tiger, if they come upon it. 

Elephant hunting, to which the Karen were much given in the 
old days, has been revived to a considerable extent in recent years 
among the Karen of Tavoy and the Tenasserim division. Their 
practice is to build a large V-shaped stockade and drive the animals 
into it. At the apex of the stockade they erect a high-fenced en- 
closure into which tame elephants are sent to mingle with the wild 
ones. Hunting elephants merely as game is no longer allowed by 
the Government; but when that practice was tolerated, beaters 
drove the animals along an elephant-run, while hunters, who were 
adepts at spear-throwing, stood in wait behind trees and speared 


M g.9 








the grrlBat creatures as they rushed past. The effort of the spearmen 
was either to thrust the elephants through the heart or to ham- 
string and disable them with their long knives, in order that they 
might be put to death later. 

The Karen hunts primarily in order to obtain food, although 
he certainly enjoys the excitement of the chase as well. But he is 
not a sportsman, in the proper sense of that term. He does not 
discriminate in his slaughter of wild creatures. He does not look 
far enough ahead to appreciate the necessity of sparing the fe- 
males among the game animals, even those that are with young. 
He is apt in imitating the calls of many animals and birds. Almost 
every Karen can entice the barking-deer within short range by imi- 
tating the cry of its fawn. He does this by putting a green leaf 
between his lips and blowing through it. The sound thus emitted 
often brings the doe bounding through the jungle, only to be shot 


The rivers and smaller streams of Burma are full of fish of 
many kinds and sizes. The Karen is fond of fish for his daily fare, 
and on the plains the fermented fish-paste of wide repute is a part 
of his regular diet. Fishing is not confined to the men. Indeed, I 
have sometimes thought that the women do more of it than the 
men; but this, if true, is explicable by the fact that many times, 
while their men folk are at work, the women go to catch a supply 
for the next meal. 

The Karen on the plains use much the same methods in fishing 
as the Burmese, which they have probably copied from the latter. 
In this chapter, however, I shall confine myself to an account of the 
practices that have come under my observation along the hill 
streams. Nets, large and small, baskets, traps, jars, weirs, the hook 
and line, and spears are the more common kinds of implements em- 
ployed by the highland folk in obtaining their aquatic food. 

In shallow water many fish are taken by means of the "thwe," 
which is an oval hoop a foot or more in its longest diameter, on 
which a net of cotton strands is woven. The fisherman wades 
through the water with his net in hand, plunges it down over the 
fish within his reach, and scoops it up and out toward him. In the 
shallow water of submerged fields what may be called a push-net 
of closely woven material ("hti hsaw") is used in catching min- 
nov/s. It has two handles that cross and form the sides of the 


spreading scoop, and is pushed ahead by the one handling it A 
longer scoop of similar construction is called a "paw," a name 
probably derived from the Burmese designation, "pauk." 

The "pu" is a basket shaped like an Egyptian vase and has a 
hole near the bottom fitted with a trap-door. It is baited and set 
in the water. (Seepage 103.) The fish entering this contrivance are 
prevented from getting out not only by the trap-door, but also by 

Cyunducal Fish-tbapb 

a circle of sharp points converging inwards around the door. There 
are many forms of basket and cage traps, all built on the principle 
of the lobster-pot or "pu" just described, either with trap-doors or 
inward converging bamboo splints through which the fish enter to 
nibble at the tempting bait. Considerable ingenuity is shown in the 
construction nf snmc of t>i*> ba»ic<'t traps One type has the shape 

of a long-necked wine bottle, but considerably larger. A trap of this 
shape is made from a joint of bamboo, which is about two inches in 
diameter. At one end the joint is split into six or eight segments 
about two-thirds of its length. These are spread far enough open 
to form the body of the "bottle," being kept in that shape by the 
interlacing of transverse strips in circles that get smaller toward 
the neck of the trap. The bottom or open end of this bottle-shaped 
basket consists of bamboo strips that converge inwards, and as the 
basket is staked down on its side in a narrow and shallow place in 
the stream, the fish gain their entrance through the elastic funnel 
provided for them. The fisherman extracts his catch by spreading 
open the segments forming the neck of the basket. Another type 
of the basket trap is cylindrical in shape, three and a half or four 
feet long, and some four inches in diameter. It, too, has the inward- 
converging strips of bamboo at one end. Once inside the long and 
narrow tube, the fish is unable to turn around or, indeed, to do 


anything except move forward to the front end of the cage in which 
it finds itself. Sometimes a jar is set low in the shallow narrows 
of a stream through which the fish are running and, in jumping for 
the deeper water above or because the watching fisherinan pur- 
posely frightens them, they fall into the jar ("f leu"), from the 
narrow mouth of which they are unable to leap to freedom. 

Jars, basket and cage traps, scoops, and small hand-nets are 
familiar to the Karen fishermen, as we have seen. The hook and 
line are also in common use, for fish-hooks are a commodity readily 
obtainable in the bazaars, and earthworms are to be had for the 
digging. Men and women, to say nothing of children, are, there- 
fore, much given to angling and always seem able to draw fish 
from any little pool that may be near. Eels are much prized, and 
double-pointed iron spears afford the readiest means of their cap- 
ture. On occasion nowadays the rods of an old umbrella are turned 
into these implements. Seins have been used extensively among the 
Burmese and by the Karen on the plains, but not much in the hills. 

The large catches resulting from seining are obtained by mere 
primitive methods among the Karen. For example, a number of 
men, provided with baskets ("hsaw") wide and open at the bottom, 
form a line across a shallow stream and work the bottom foot by 
foot up the course. The fish either move ahead of the line of ad- 
vance, or are caught in the baskets. In the latter case the fishermen 
remove their catches by hand through the round opening in the 
top of each basket. Sometimes nearly the whole population of a 
village, old and young, male and female, take part in a fishing ex- 
pedition in the dry season. As the stream is low, it is barely more 
than a succession of pools connected by tiny rivulets. Accordingly, 
they build a dam and throw into the water above it sheaves of a 
poisonous plant, which they call "xaw hter." This benumbs the 
fish, without rendering them inedible or impregnating the water 
to the detriment of the waders. Various members of the crowd, 
especially the boys and little girls who strip for the purpose, busy 
themselves in stirring up the water and mud to bring the fish to 
the surface, where some are already floating apparently lifeless. 
The older people occupy themselves with hand-nets, scoops, etc., in 
dipping out their helpless victims. As the water in these mountain 
streams is often cold and the villagers soon become dripping wet, 
a fire is built on shore by which they may dry and warm them- 
selves. Many of the persons in the water wear at the waist a small- 
necked basket in which to drop the fish picked up or, lacking this 


convenience, toss them to their neighbors, who collect them into or- 
dinary baskets on the bank. When the place has been thoroughly 
"combed," the supply is distributed among the villagers, every fam- 
ily getting its share. 

I have been informed that there are several kinds of plants 
that may be used to poison fish ; but as certain ones are dangerous 
to man and beast, the people in the Pegu Hills prefer the "xaw 
hter." Surely, this method of taking quantities of fish by means 
of poison would not commend itself to the sportsman and is com- 
parable to the dynamiting of fish, a thing that has been done in 
rare instances in parts of the United States, although it is not 
countenanced by public opinion or the law. 

When the fish are beginning to spawn in the creeks, bunches 
of straw are sunk in the creek pools for their spawning beds. Later 
the young fish are taken from their hiding-places in the straw, or 
the bunches are carefully removed from the water and shaken over 
a cloth spread on the bank. 

On the plains when the streams are overflowing the fields and 
the fish are running up to spawn, the people build weirs of rushes 
across the shallows of the water courses and insert long trumpet- 
shaped tubes ("hk'ya") of basket-work in them at intervals. These 
tubes are perhaps three feet long and only a few inches in diameter, 
the broad end being pointed down-stream and left open, while the 
small end is plugged with grass or twigs. The fish seek to pass be- 
yond the obstructing weirs through these tubes, only to find them- 
selves unable either to back out or turn around. The plains people 
make their fishing expeditions to shallow lakes or, better, to pools 
left standing after the subsidence of the rains, or to the creeks that 
traverse the alluvial soil of Lower Burma. In part they use nets 
like those in vogue among their brethren of the hills, but they also 
have a cast-net of circular form and a square dip-net. The former 
is about five yards in diameter, with weighted edges that sink on 
all sides, thus covering and enclosing the fish nearer the center, 
where the rope is attached by which it is slowly drawn out. 




I. Spinning 

In the chapter on agriculture (Chapter VIII) I have already 
referred to the fact that the cotton plants are tended by the women, 
who also pick the bolls, pack them in their deep baskets, and carry 
them home on their backs. The seeds are removed by a machine 
like a small mangle or clothes-wringer, with two closely fitting 
rollers of hard wood. The fibers pass through between the rollers, 
leaving the seeds behind divested of every filament. This Karen 
cotton-gin is like that of the Burmese, the people of Borneo, and the 
Filipinos.^ (See upper illustration, p. 109.) 

After ginning the next process is whipping the fibers into a 
workable mass, much like cotton batting. This is done with a bow 
whose handle is straight and heavy, while the thin tip is bent in a 
sharp curve when the bow-string is drawn tight. The women and 
girls engaged in whipping the cotton, which corresponds to carding 
in a cotton-mill, move the bow with the left hand in small circles 
just above the cotton and keep snapping the string with the right 
thumb, which is protected by a cloth wrapping, until a layer of 
fibers encircles the string in a more or less parallel and compact 
order. When the space between the string and the belly of the bow 
has become filled, the aggregation of fibers is removed and flattened 
out on a mat. The twanging of a room full of oscillating bows 
sounds like a battery of unmuffled motors, at the same time filling 
the air with flying bits of cotton as though one were in a snow- 
storm. (See lower illustration, p. 109.) 

The layers of cotton-fibers are next divided into narrow strips, 
and rolled on the mat or the thigh into small rolls of about a cubit's 
length and of the thickness of one's thumb. From these rolls the 
yam is spun by means of the spinning-wheel, which is like those 

1 See Hose and MacDougall's The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. I, 221, for description of 
the processes of cotton-srinnins: in the region of which they treat. The methods they describe are 
remarkably like those used by the Karen. 




found all over Burma. This contrivance is of the simplest form, 
consisting of a driving-wheel about two feet in diameter with 
spokes and rim of bamboo, the axle of which is fitted in an orna- 
mental flat post rising from one comer of a thick bottom board, 
which is three and a half feet long and a foot or more wide. Near 
the middle of the other end of this board a shorter post rises, to 
the base of which is affixed a little wheel, with a grooved rim, in 
line with the driving-wheel, the two wheels being connected by a 
slender belt. There is a handle on the large wheel and a horizontal 
iron spindle fastened in the center of the little one. The spinner sits 
on the floor, with her machine drawn up to her knees in front of her, 
the driving-wheel at her left hand and the point of the spindle at 
her right. She attaches some fibers of a roll to a spun thread tied 
to the spindle, and sets this to rotating rapidly by turning the large 
wheel with her left hand, meantime continuing to pay out the fibers 
from the roll with her right hand. After the spindle has twisted the 
loose filaments into a tight yarn, the spinner feeds the newly spun 
yam on to the spindle and repeats the process with another roll of 
fibers, until the spindle is full. 

II. Dyeing and Weaving 

The next stage in the work is that of dyeing. The colors im- 
parted to the skeins of cotton yarn are shades of blue to black, red, 
and yellow. In producing the blue shades the skeins are soaked in 
a solution of the bark or leaves of the wild indigo plant, called "naw 
xaw" in Karen, the depth of the color depending on the duration 
and repetition of the soaking, until a blue black has been obtained. 
The red dyes are derived from the stick-lac so commonly found in 
the Toungoo Hills. During the years just preceding the World War 
a good deal of foreign dyestuff was introduced among the Karen 
people, and yellow came to be used in addition to the other colors.* 

The weaving of the yarn into cloth comes next in order. The 
threads that are to form the warp of the cloth must first be got 
ready for the hand-loom ("hta"). This is done by unwinding the 
skeins and stringing the thread around a few pegs driven into a 
leveled and cleaned space of ground, until enough has been laid 
down to fill the loom. If there is no convenient place out-of-doors 
for this purpose, the long threads are strung on pegs around the 

' For an account of dyes and methods of dyeing in Burma, see The Upper Burma Gazetteer, 
Vol. II. Pt. I, 887-899. 


family living-room or along one side of the corridor of the village- 
house. The Karen loom is a primitive affair much like those to be 
seen among the hill tribes in Burma, the Kachin, for example, or to 
be found in Malaysia and the adjacent regions. The Karen loom 
has no frame, differing in this respect from the Burmese loom. It 
consists of little more than a bamboo pole five and a half or six 
feet long, over which the warp-threads are passed, this pole being 
held in place four feet or so above the floor against the back parti- 
tion of a living-room, two of whose large bamboo uprights have 
holes in them for inserting the pole. From this support the warp 
extends at an incline some ten or twelve feet to the lap of the 
weaver, who holds it taut by means of a strap around her waist, 
while she sits flat on the floor with her feet braced against a section 
of large bamboo. The threads of the two layers are kept in place 
by being passed through heddles consisting of small loops attached 
to bamboo bars, alternate threads being thus strung on one or 
the other of one or more pairs of bars. On a shuttle of bamboo 
the filling or woof -thread is wound. It is passed by hand from side 
to side between the separated layers of the warp, is pulled taut, 
and then forced tight against the last of the interwoven threads by 
a piece of Burmese ebony wood, shaped like the enlarged blade of 
a pocket-knife. As the work progresses, the finished cloth is rolled 
away on the rod in the weaver's lap, only a yard or two being the 
product of an ordinary day's work. On the plains the younger gen- 
eration of Karen women use the Burmese loom and can accom- 
plish more with it. (See illustrations, pp. 112, 114.) 

Variations in color are obtained by introducing different colors 
of thread. When a colored pattern is woven for a skirt or the bor- 
der of a blanket, this process is called "u," meaning primarily "in- 
serting the fingers" in reference to picking up certain threads under 
which the filling threads must be passed in order to produce the de- 
sired pattern. 

After its removal from the loom the cloth is plunged into water 
and spread out to dry. Knots are tucked in and straggling ends re- 
moved, but no other finishing is thought necessary. Such cloth is 
very firm and almost indestructible. The width of a strip as it 
comes from the loom is from eighteen to twenty inches. Between 
three and four yards are required for a skirt. This length is cut 
in half. By sewing the two resulting pieces together side by side 
the proper dimensions for a skirt are secured. The ends of this 


A Kamh Gibl a 
This loom, which hu a rrune and i 

The Kaken Look 
■ itsell. The bIit conHtniitioi 
room Ib shoim in this picture. 


larger strip, which is nearly two yards long and about forty inches 
wide, are sewed together, and the skirt is finished. The cloth for a 
man's garment is cut and sewed in much the same way. 

III. Mat-Making and Basketry 

The making of mats and baskets is almost wholly confined to 
men, who prepare the materials out of rattan and bamboo and 
spend their leisure hours weaving them. Common mats ("klau"), 
such as are used as floor coverings in their houses and to sleep on, 
and the large ones that serve as winnowing and threshing-floors in 
the hills,^ are woven of bamboo strips about half an inch wide in 
checker-board pattern. The strips do not run parallel with the 
edges of the mat, but diagonally at an angle of forty-five degrees. 
The better and stronger mats are made of strips with the silicious 
outer surface intact, giving them a smooth and glossy appearance. 
The softer rush mats of Burmese manufacture are often found in 
Karen houses, but are not made by any of the occupants, except 
such as have learned the art from their neighbors. 

The people distinguish between several different kinds of bas- 
kets, for which they have particular names and special uses. The 
large baskets ("ku") for carrying paddy and other produce from 
the fields to their houses are shaped like an elongated egg with a 
truncated smaller end and are slung on the back with a bark-fiber 
strap which passes over the forehead and attaches to loops on either 
side a little above the middle of the basket. When thus carried, 
the receptacle reaches below the waist and a third of its own length 
above the shoulders. If the bearer is heavily laden, he or she partly 
relieves the weight on the strap by hooks of horn or bamboo root, 
hung from the shoulders and supporting the bottom of the basket. 
These large receptacles are woven in diagonal pattern with small 
strands of rattan, those of the upper half being less than a quarter 
of an inch in width while those of the lower half are a little wider. 
The bottom of such baskets are square and flat, and its edges are 
bound with round rattans. From the comers rattan stays are run 
vertically to the large oval mouth of the basket, which is finished 
off with a large rattan around the edge. A midrib down each side 
from top to bottom adds strength and durability. 

Cotton and vegetables are carried in loosely woven and large- 
meshed baskets, called "seh," meaning rough or flimsy. A man will 

> See anU, p. 82. 


cut a green bamboo, divide it into strips, and weave one of these in 
a few minutes, and then discard it after he has reached home. 

Inasmuch as the i>eopIe of the Toungoo country have higher 
hills to climb and longer distances to travel than those dwelling 
lower down in the Pegu ranges, they carry their produce in smaller 
baskets than do the latter. These Toungoo baskets have the shape 
of an inverted pyramid with the apex blunted. Sometimes they are 
woven of rattan and nicely finished, sometimes loosely made of bam- 
boo splints. In the houses of the Toungoo Hills I have seen enor- 
mous spreading baskets for the storage of grain and other things. 

The hill people make small, closely woven receptacles for carry- 
ing ordinary articles and also for keeping things dry during the 
rainy season. They render these baskets water-tight by coating 
them with gum and afterwards with "thitse" (Burmese lacquer). 
Probably the Karen have copied this type of basket from the Bur- 
mese or the Shan, who make extensive use of them. On the plains 
the small round basket, holding about three pecks, is in constant 
service. It is Burmese in origin, as is one of its names, "taw" 
(from the Burmese word, "taung"). Its other name is "na." 

\ Kaien Maiwih Wkavtnii V 


Early travelers noticed the presence of large bronze drums in 
the Karen houses in Karenni and in the Toungoo Hills ; but it is only 
recently that these drums have been made the subject of careful 
study. In the latter part of the nineteenth century Europeans first 
began to examine similar objects that were brought from China. 
It has been discovered that these objects are scattered through a 
vast area extending from Mongolia on the north to the Celebes 
Islands on the south, but that their place of origin was probably in 
the old Cambodian kingdom of the Indo-Chinese peninsula. Four 
or five classes of such drums are distinguished, of which the Karen 
drums form one group.^ 

The Karen drums are characterized by a nearly straight cylin- 
der or body, which has a slightly narrowed waist. The cylinder is 
encircled by bands of conventionalized designs between sets of 
straight lines forming the borders of the bands. In some cases 
there is a line of molded figures of elephants and snails down one 
side of the cylinder. The fiat circular metal head extends a little 
beyond the body, forming a rim. In the center of the head is a 
large star ^closed by concentric circles between which are nar- 
rower or wider zones filled with figures of different patterns. Dis- 
tributed at equal intervals around the outer edge of the head are 
four or six frogs in relief. Sometimes these frogs are in sets of 
two, one on top of the other ; sometimes in sets of three, superim- 
posed one upon another. The two pairs of small handles are sit- 
uated on opposite sides of the body of the drum well toward the top, 
and present the appearance of neatly braided straps. These bronze 
drums vary in size from about eighteen inches across the head to 
about thirty inches. 

^ In addition to the authorities mentioned at the foot of page 9, Chapter II, the article 
hj W. Fay, entitled "Uber Alte Bronzetrommeln aus Sudoat Asien" in the MitteUungen der 
AnthropoloffiBehen Geaetteehaft in Wein, Vol. XXXIII, (1908) is a valuable contribution to the 
sreneral subject of bronze drums. Herr Foy, however, differs somewhat in classification from 
Frans Hegrer, who is followed by M. Parmentier. Origin, shape, and ornamentation form the 
basis for the differentiation into classes. Heger puts the Karen drums in Type III, while 
Foy distinsniBhes them as Type V. 



Concerning their origin much that is legendary has been writ- 
ten. In the Karen Thesaurus we are told in substance that these 
drums ("klo oh tra oh") are very expensive and are owned in 
Lower Burma by a few very wealthy persons, who make offerings 
of food and liquor to them annually, fearing an early death if they 
fail to do this. The drums are said by some to have been brought 
from the "K' wa" country and by others from the "Swa" tribe.^ 
Those who went to buy these objects paid according to the number 
of frogs on them, the price of one with two frogs being twenty 
rupees. The buyer put down the price and took away the drum, 
after which the owner came and got his money. If the buyer did . 
not leave the money, he risked losing his way and being overtaken 
and eaten by the owner. The drums are used in making a noise like 
that of a gong.^ 

Dr. Francis Mason, writing at Toungoo in 1868, speaks of 
these drums under the name of "kyee-zees," and is better informed 
than the writer in the Thesaurus in saying that they are ob- 
tained from the Shan. He also states that the Karen distinguish 
ten different kinds of drums according to sound and have a differ- 
ent name for each kind. Dr. Mason tells us that the best-sounding 
drums are worth a thousand rupees apiece, while the poorest 
bring only one hundred each. Dr. Mason continues: "The posses- 
sion of Kyee-zees is what constitutes a rich Karen. No one is con- 
sidered rich without one, whatever may be his other possessions. 
Everyone who has money endeavors to turn it into Kyee-zees, and 
a village that has many of them is the envy of the other villages 
and it is often the cause of wars to obtain possession of them." * 

Some of the Karens have told me that in the beginning these 
drums were obtained from the "Yu" people, who seem to have been 
the Jung or Yung who occupied Yunnan in ancient times.' Indeed, 
various indications point to the probability that the drums existed 
or were in use in Yunnan when the ancestors of the Karen passed 
through there from their home in western China into Burma, 

- The Swa are mentioned in some of the old Karen tales and appear to have been wild 
cannibals, of whom but little was known. Their location seems uncertain. Some of the taler 
place them beyond the Rreat waters, while others suKsrest that they live to the north. Probably 
the references are to the Waer. who are one of the head-huntinsr tribes still livinsr in the 
northern Shan States, on the Chinrse frontier. 

3 The Karen Thesaurus, 1847, Vol. I, pp. 327. ff. 

* Journal, Afiatic Society of Bengal, 1868, Vol. XXXVII. Pt. II, pp. 128, IT. 

" Mr. Taw Sein Ko, in Annual Archaeological Report, Burma. 1917, pp. 22, 28. Mr. Po Lin 
Te writes in the Rangoon Gazette, Sept. 27, 1919, that the Yu were the oldest of five families who 
emfgrrated from the Sandy River and were, therefore, entitled to use the drums. 


where they settled.** This is the view of the origin of the drums held 
by Heger and others. 

Certain Karen traditions associate the drums with "Pii Maw 
Taw," one of the mythical characters of ancient times. This man 
was at work in his field and, seeing a flock of monkeys emerge from 
the forest, feigned death. Thereupon, the monkeys sent several 
of their number back to bring their drums for the proper perform- 
ance of the funeral rites. Of the three brought, one was silver, one, 
gold, and the third, white in appearance. The last one fell into a 
pool of water and was lost. "Pii Maw Taw" suddenly interrupted 
the funeral ceremonies and the monkeys ran away, leaving the 
other two drums in the field. The old man took them home and they 
at once became the most sacred possession of the people, being con- 
secrated every year with very great ceremony, until at last the Pwo 
Karen grew tired of making their annual journey for this purpose 
and carried them off. They were named "Gaw Kwa Htu" and "Gaw 
Kwa Se" ^ and are still believed to have been deposited in a cave 
near Donyan in Thaton district. Each drum had two sticks and a 
striker, all made of bronze. The smaller stick, which produced a 
rolling sound, was in the form of a centipede. The striker had a 
quilted surface, in appearance like the scales of a cobra. Unfortu- 
nately these drum implements had been left behind with the 
Sgaw, of Loo Thaw Ko village in the Papun district. Almost every 
year the Sgaw came down and demanded that the drums be given 
back to them, but without success. Gaw Le Bay and Gaw 
Ser Paw were the two Pwo Karens who committed the sacrilege of 
stealing away the drums, being punished for it with sore eyes, from 
which their descendants in Donyin suffer even unto this day. 

All the elders believe that the bronze drums connect the Karen 
people with a remote past. But few of these objects that are still 
in existence can be traced back more than a century or two. Never- 
theless, I have heard of some that are reputed to be much older, 
especially one in a Mopgha village, near Toungoo, which is said to 
date back "nearly a thousand years." This drum has a name, and 
innumerable offerings have been made to it year after year. 

It was formerly thought that the Red Karen were the only 
tribe who possessed drums, but it now appears that these instru- 
ments were known among all the tribes. In many places, however, 
they are no longer used. It is in the remoter hill regions, where 

<■ See Chapter I, pp. 9. 12. 

"^ "Gaw" is the prefix used for drums, as "saw" is for men. 


the Karen are less affected by outside influences, that the use of the 
drums has been the most prolonged. 

There is considerable difference of opinion among the people of 
the various sections of the country about the classification of the 
drums. A writer in the Rangoon Gazette divides them into two 
general groups, the older and the later. He regards the older, more 
melodious, and more highly prized group as comprising those which 
have four single frogs, snails, or elephants on their heads. He sub- 
divides this group into three divisions, namely, (1) "Klo ka paw," 
(2) "Klo ma ti," and (3) "Klo gaw pie." The drums in the first of 
these subdivisions are the oldest and best-sounding. The second 
general group, comprising the later and poorer drums, may be sub- 
divided, according to this writer, into five classes, which he names 
as follows: (1) "Raw tear," (2) "Raw la," (3) "Rawser," (4) "Raw 
saw," and (5) "Raw boo." These have four sets of double or triple 
frogs or elephants on their heads. Each class has its characteristic 
design, for example, ears of paddy supplying the decorative figure 
on the "Raw boo" and Karen hand-bags that on the "Raw tear." * 

In the Pegu Hills the drums with the single frogs on the head 
and no figures down the side are known as the "hot" drums, that is, 
those which are beaten on occasions of death or disaster. The others, 
with the superimposed frogs and with elephants and snails down 
the side, are called "cool" drums, these being used on festive occa- 
sions. In Toungoo, however, the people do not appear to make the 
distinction just mentioned, but use both kinds of drums indiscrimi- 
nately for festive and sad occasions, such as weddings and 
funerals, respectively. 

That the drums are regarded as sacred objects can not be 
doubted. In the back districts, where the old customs are still per- 
petuated, offerings are everjrwhere made to them. I was informed 
that during the month of March, 1918, a feast was to be held in 
honor of certain drums in the village of Pyindaing, Tharrawaddy 
district, and that offerings were to be made to them, the customary 
period of seven years having elapsed since the last feast and offer- 
ings. I held myself in readiness to attend the celebration, but was 
finally told that the ceremony had been postponed indefinitely. The 
account in the Karen Thesauncs speaks of the offerings as having 

* Mr. To Lin Te in the Rangoon Gaxette of Sept. 27, 1919. I regret that this writer** 


article appeared after I had left Burma on my furlough. I have not been able, therefore, to 
identify the desisms mentioned by him on any picture or sketch of the few' I have with me or 
that are accessible to me. 


been presented annually. Other sources of information indicate 
that they might be made at any time, especially on occasions of ca- 


lamity or epidemic. As far as I am able to ascertain, these offer- 
ings usually consist of food and liquor. In the early times, at least. 


to withhold such oblations from a drum was to invite the descent 
of illness and misfortune upon the owner. 

Of the various drums which I have had an opportunity to in- 
spect, I wish to describe two with some fullness, one of these being 
a "hot" drum and the other a "cool" one. The latter is shown on 
page 119, and was obtained in 1918 from the Nabaain village 
tract by Thra Shwe Thee. It is a fine specimen of its class 
and was used on festive occasions. Its head is twenty-one inches 
in diameter; its bottom or mouth, sixteen and one-half inches in 
diameter ; its cylinder, fifteen and one-half inches long. The surface 
of the metal, which is black, is much worn. It has four sets of frogs 
on the head, each group being composed of three of the creatures, 
one above another. The frogs are fiat and conventional in form. 
In the center of the head is a large twelve-pointed star, the angles 
close in between the rays being connected by several arcs, from the 
outermost of which radiating lines diverge. The points of the star 
are encircled by nineteen zones, which fill the space to the edge of 
the rim. These zones are not separated from one another by equal 
spaces, but fall into five groups. Counting from the center outward, 
the first three of these groups comprise four zones each, each group 
being separated from the next one by four concentric circles, while 
each individual zone is separated from its fellow by three circles in 
close proximity to one another. The fourth and fifth groups con- 
sist of three zones each, four circles separating the two groups and 
three circles, each zone from its neighbor. The rim zone, on which 
the sets of frogs stand, is broader than the others, and the edge of 
the rim is finished with a braided beading. 

The ornamental designs contained in the several zones, group 
by group, are indicated in the following table : 

Ornamental Designs in the Zones on the Head of the 

Nabaain Drum 

Group I Group II Group III Group IV Group V 
Hatching Hatching Hatching Hatching Hatching 
Circles Circles Circles Plaiting Plaiting 
Plaiting Plaiting Hatching Birds' heads Diamonds 
Birds' heads Six dia- Six dia- 
monds, cir- monds, cir- 
cles, three cles, three 
birds birds 


Little comment is necessary in regard to these zone decora- 
tions. In the fourth zone of Group I and the third of Group IV the 
birds' heads follow in close succession. In the fourth zone of both 
Group II and Group III three birds are followed by six diamonds 
or lozenges, each lozenge being separated from its fellow by two 
circles, while the series is terminated by three circles. The combi- 
nation of decorative figures is repeated over and over around the 
zone. The birds are represented side view, standing with their 
heads extended horizontally as if looking for food. The outer zone, 
on which the frogs stand, has less ornamentation than the other 
zones. At intervals groups of six circles, arranged like the sides of 
a pyramid, appear in this zone, the rest of the space being left 

The cylinder of the Nabaain drum is encircled by numerous 
engraved bands, arranged in three groups. The smallest group, 
consisting of four bands with indistinct patterns, is at the bottom 
or open end of the cylinder, the individual bands being separated 
by close parallel lines which number three in two instances and four 
in the other. Around the waist of the cylinder run two sets of five 
bands, a space wider than any of the bands separating the two sets. 
Parallel lines separate the individual bands from one another. 
Three bands of the lower set are ornamented with lozenge-shaped 
figures. The two outer bands of the upper set are filled with hatch- 
ing and the other three, with the lozenge patterns. Three or four 
parallel lines separate these bands from each other. 

The "hot" or "sad" drum, which I shall next describe, was ob- 
tained from the village of Kondagyi at the head of Thonze Creek 
in the Tharrawaddy district. It has a bronze color and is reputed 
to contain gold and silver in the alloy. As drums of the class to 
which this one belongs were used only on occasions of calamity or 
death in the owner's family, they were kept hidden away in the 
jungle and were brought out only when necessary. The patterns 
on the Kondagyi drum are much worn, and part of one side of it is 
broken off. It was also once somewhat injured at a funeral feast, 
where a dispute arose about the tonal qualities of this and other 
drums whose owners were present. Many of the guests regarded 
the tones of the Kondagyi drum as more melodious than those of 
the other drums. The partisans of the latter resented this adverse 
opinion of their favorite instrument with such vigor that they 
left three knife-cuts on the edge of the sweet-sounding drum before 
it was rescued by its owner and his friends. The Kondagyi drum 





is said to have come into possession of the family from whom I 
purchased it in 1917, back in 1757, at the time when the Burmese 
overthrew the Talain kingdom of Pegu. It was supposed to have 
come originally from "the Eastern country," that is, probably Pa- 
pun or some locality near the Shan States. A few years ago, when 
the funeral customs were beginning to fall into disuse, the owner 
refused three hundred rupees for this drum. Later, realizing that 
the old usages were gone, he hobbled over the hills to the house of 
his son, who knew the place of concealment of the drum in the 
jungle, ordered him to bring it forth from its hiding-place, and sold 
it for fifty rupees, although still fearing that he might be dishon- 
oring his ancestors. (See illustrations, p. 122.) 

The ornamentation of this drum is not so well marked as that 
on the Nabaain instrument. On the head (lower figure, p. 122) the 
star in the center has six slightly rounded points, which do not ex- 
tend more than about three-fourths of the distance from the center 
to the inner circle of the first zone. The total number of zones is 
fourteen, arranged in four groups of four, three, two, and four zones, 
respectively. The two inner groups are separated by a single cir- 
cle and the others, by two closely drawn circles. The patterns in 
the zones are given in the following table : 

Ornamentation in the Zones on the Head of the 

KoNDAGYi Drum 

Group I 



Two rows of 
oval dots 

Group II 

Indistinct pat- 

Indistinct pat- 

(Both zones 
are wider than 
those in Group 


Group III 

groups of two 
fishes and 
three birds 

Group IV 

Two rows of 
oval dots 

Same as above Hatching 

(Each of these 
zones are twice 
the width of 
those in Group 



Two rows of 
oval dots 


Two concentric circles enclose the last zone, and beyond these 
to the edge of the rim is an open space. The four well-molded sin- 
gle frogs are in the last zone and face to the left, as do the flat pat- 
terns also. 

The cylinder of this drum is worn and weather-beaten, and 
the bands in low relief are some of them indistinct. Near the bot- 
tom or mouth, which is rounded off with a molding a little thicker 
than the rest of the metal, there are two indistinct bands, the upper 
one having been apparently ornamented with hatching. A second 
group of seven bands encircles the waist of the cylinder. Four of 
these are below the seam that runs around the drum at its smallest 
diameter. The lowest of the four seems to have been filled with 
hatching and the other three, with the lozenge pattern. Of the three 
bands above the seam two are indistinct, and the third is filled with 
hatching. Between the bulging shoulder and the rim are four bands 
with patterns hardly discernible. There is no line of elephants and 
snails running down the side. Double flat handles of bronze project 
from opposite sides. These are narrow in the middle and wider at 
the ends, where they are joined to the cylinder. 

Besides the two drums above described, I have seen several 
others that conform in general to one or the other of the two tjrpes 
to which these belong. I have no data at hand, however, from which 
to give accurate descriptions of them. On none of them have I seen 
the figures of men, houses, or boats with which the ancient drums 
of Cambodia are decorated, but all of them display the charac- 
teristics usually attributed to Karen drums, namely, narrow circu- 
lar zones on the head, containing geometric designs and convention- 
alized figures of fishes and birds, and the straight cylinder with a 
slightly narrowed waist. 

Drums are still being made for the Karen by the Shan people 
at the village of Nwedaung, near Loikaw in Karenni. I have never 
witnessed the process, but Mr. Franz Heger quotes the following 
account of it from a letter written in 1884 by Dr. Anderson, of 
the Calcutta Museum, who acknowledges his indebtedness for 
his information to a Mr. Lilly, of Rangoon. This information agrees 
with descriptions given by others who have visited the place: "A 
clay core is first made of the size of the inside of the gong and on 
this wax is placed and correctly modeled to the exact shape and cov- 
ered with appropriate ornamentation. When the wax model is fin- 
ished, fire-clay and water are dashed on the face of the wax with a 


\ ButiHzg DnuK Owned k- 

Head of Mk. Cbuhi 


brush. The clay and water, being thrown with great force, pene- 
trate into the small hollows and angles of the wax. When a suffi- 
cient thickness of clay has been added in this way, a coarse clay is 
laid on outside to give strength. The wax is then melted out and 
the mould made nearly red-hot. The metal is then poured in." ® 

Whether the Karen ever cast their own drums is a question 
not yet settled, and one that will be very difficult to determine. 
Certain it is that their other possessions are generally rude and 
lacking in decoration. If they were once able to produce articles of 
such artistic merit as these drums, they must have been more 
advanced than we now find them and have lost accomplishments 
which their ancestors possessed in a more vigorous northern clime, 
before they migrated to their present abode and became dependent 
upon their more thrifty neighbors for their present supply. 

If a more careful study of these drums and their uses, both 
among the Karen and the other tribes of Indo-China, can be made, 
it may yet be possible to throw new light on the relation of these 
peoples and to supply historical data that has been long sought. 

* Heger, Alte MetatUrommeln aus Sudoat-Agien, 227, ft. The quotation goes on to say 
that "the frogs on the top of the drums are cast in one piece which, considering the' thinness of 
the metal, is a good example of Karen art." I think the author of this account is mistaken in 
ascribing the manufacture of these drums to the Karen. It has always been said in recent times 
that the Shan are the makers of them. 


Political Asrangements 

The Karen race does not possess what may be termed social 
solidarity. It is broken up into many tribes, some of which ditTer 
considerably from others, as, for instance, the Brecs of Kan^nni 
and the Sgaw Karen of Lower Burma. There is« however, enou|irh 
similarity of dialects and traditions, as Well as of reli$rion and cus- 
toms, to make it certain that they really belong toother and are 
descended from a common ancestry. Even the individual tribes do 
not consist of compact groups of clans. To be sure, there is more 
cohesion among the members of one tribe than among those of 
different tribes ; but the village rather than the tribe has the greater 
claim upon their adherence. In the days before the British con- 
quest and annexation of Burma * — ^when the country received a sta- 
ble government that put an end to feuds and petty warfare — the 
village was the political unit. In the village the houses were ranged 
side by side, or else, as in the Pegu Hills, all the families of the little 
community lived within what may be called the village-house, each 
family having its living-room opening off of the common corridor. 
Everybody was thrown into intimate contact with everybody else 
in the village. Politically and socially the village was the center 
of their common life. The family group, the natural unit of kin- 
ship, although not always confined to the village, was economically 
and politically subordinate to it. 

In the village the elders ("phga tha phga," literally, the old 
men) were looked up to as connecting the village life with the past, 

^ The British conquest of Burma was accomplished In three wars, each of which was 
brouffht on by the arrosrance and stupidity of the Burmese kinss and their hivh-handed deal* 
insrs with British subjects. The First Burmese War (1824-26) resulted In the ceding of the 
provinces of Tenasserim and Arakan to the British, in the former of which there was a con- 
siderable Karen iK>pulation. The Second Burmese War (1 862-68) ended with the annexation of 
the country of Pegu or Lower Burma, in which dwell the great body of the Karen people in 
Burma: and the remainder of the territory ruled by the despotic Burmese kings came to enjoy 
the privileges of the Indian Empire after a single short campaign of only two months* duration 
in 1886, known as the Third Burmese War. Soon after this an orderly government was es- 
tablished throughout what is now known as the province of Burma: Sir J. G. Scott, KurrMA, 
A Handbook, 190-206. 



in which all wisdom and culture were supposed to have been reveal- 
ed. The older the man, provided he had not begun to show too evi- 
dent signs of decay, the wiser and more worthy of reverence he was 
thought to be. These old men repeated to the younger generation 
the "sayings of the elders" that had descended to them from former 

generations. They were consulted on all occasions, and their advice 
was usually followed. 

Above the elders was the village chief ("th'kaw" or "s'kaw"). 
He was actually the chief man in the village. His position was 


usually heriditary, but he might have no son or nephew to succeed 
him. In that case the elders chose one of their own number as his 
successor. In so far as the villagers obeyed any authority at all, 
they obeyed him. They generally observed his commands, although 
he possessed no well-defined jurisdiction. Ordinary quarrels, dis- 
putes relating to land, questions concerning the ownership of ani- 
mals, etc., were referred to him for settlement. In most instances 
his court was a free and informal meeting of villagers and elders ; 
and his decision, incorporating the opinion of the latter, would have 
the sanction of the group and be accepted by the parties concerned. 
He was the patriarch of the village, and often its high priest as 
well. A foray would not be undertaken without his consent. He 
was accorded the place of honor in the family living-room, which 
was usually the mat on the side facing eastward. If his rule be- 
came extremely displeasing to the villagers, they quietly went to a 
different site from that chosen by him at the time of the annual 
migration of the village. Thus, he would be left with only those 
who remained loyal to him, usually his relatives. The other fam- 
ilies were now free to select a new chief or headman. 

The chief levied no taxes. He tilled his field like his fellow 
villagers. He often received gifts of choice game, fruit, or grain ; 
but these were largely a tribute to his personal popularity. If the 
village was about to engage in a raid, he might assess the people 
for the purpose of fitting out the expedition; but this would bring 
him no direct personal benefit, unless he was the organizer of it 
himself. The Karen had no caste of chiefs, no royal family, or even 
a privileged social class. Every member of the community shared 
alike in the ordinary tasks and the privations or prosperity of the 

Community Life 

Wealth formed the only basis of social distinctions in the vil- 
lage life. But this made little difference in outward conditions. 
The land was free and belonged to the community. Every man was 
at liberty to take for his own use as many acres of hillside as he 
could fell. On this score there was little chance for inequality. 
However, the accumulation of money, which in the early days was 
represented by silver ingots, later by rupees, enabled one to pur- 
chase buffaloes or cattle or even an elephant, although the last was 
more often caught than bought. The ownership of a bronze drum 
brought more distinction to a family than that of seven elephants. 


But these forms of wealth brought with them only more or less 
prestig:e within the single stratum comprising the entire com- 

There was little occasion for individual initiative among the 
Karen, on account of the important part played by communal ac- 
tivity amongst them. One could claim no particular credit for his 
deeds of blood on a raid. That belonged rather to the organizer 
and leader of the foray. One never set out on a journey or at- 
tempted any special work alone. In some sections it was the cus- 
tom for the chief to beat a gong or blow a horn as the signal to go 
to the fields. Every one went at the signal. None would go without 
it. If a supply of fish was wanted, instead of an individual taking 
his or her rod and going alone to catch them, the whole village, or 
as many of its members as were free to do so, would join in a fish- 
ing expedition, first gathering the herbs to poison the water if the 
fish were to be taken in that way, or carrying along their funnel- 
shaped baskets with which to work the bottom of a shallow stream, 
or going prepared to resort to whatever other method they thought 
suitable to the time and place. Likewise hunting was commonly 
conducted as a drive for game in which all might participate, at 
least all the men ; and a motley variety of implements was brought 
out for the purpose, including nets, crossbows, spears, knives, and 
perhaps an old rusty gun. Thus they hunted and fished together, 
as they often do still. Even those who failed to go were not left 
out in the division of the spoils, if they managed to be present at 
the proper time, and they usually did. 

This communal sharing was so much the order of the day that 
personal rights were more or less disregarded. If a man got a 
few seeds and planted a garden near his house, he was fortunate, 
as is sometimes still the case in the hills, if he gathered half the 
crop he had planted. His neighbors, asking no leave, helped 
themselves generously without hesitation and perhaps without in- 
tending to steal. 

While one's personal rights were thus disregarded, they were 
not entirely ignored. A man's field or "hkii" and his betel gardens 
were his own ; and his paddy-bins, which may have been built in the 
jungle a mile from the village, were respected. If he marked with 
a bunch of grass a tree in which he had discovered a hive of wild 
bees, no one would attempt to rob it of its honey. Many of the 
Karen people are like children in their regard for the rights of 
other persons : they understand and abide by the law of established 


usage, but they are somewhat puzzled by new situations and in 
such cases are apt to give themselves the benefit of the doubt. 
Stealing, such as appropriating paddy from a bin or leading off 
another's ox or taking somebody's money, is severely dealt with 
among the Karen. But carrying away a small trinket that takes 
the eye, either with or without the owner's permission, is not con- 
sidered important enough to be noticed. 

The Women 

Among races less advanced than the Karen the attention of 
the men is almost entirely taken up with warfare and hunting, 
while the work about the house and village is left to the women. 
The Karen have not progressed far enough beyond primitive condi- 
tions for the men to assume all the burdens of the home life that 
properly fall to the stronger sex. The men still feel their superior- 
ity and remain idle, while the women do work too heavy for them. 
Even apart from the care of the children, the women bear the 
heavy end of the burden. They are, to be sure, accepted as 
necessary and useful members of the family, but, none the less, 
the men consider themselves dishonored if brought into close con- 
tact with a woman's garment or compelled to appear in any way 
subordinate to a female. They will not, or would not in the olden 
days, go under a house, lest they should have to pass under a 
woman. In this respect they entertain feelings similar to those of 
Burmese men. 

As housekeeper the Karen woman's work is by no means con- 
fined within the irregular partitions of her living-room or house. 
She draws the water, which means in the hills that she must de- 
scend to the stream and carry up the family supply in bamboo 
joints hung by strings across her head. She has been trained to 
do this from the time she was so small that she could only 
struggle up the hillside with one undersized bamboo at her side. 
Usually she has her little girls' help in this daily task. (See p. 140.) 
She must pound and winnow the paddy, polish it in a mortar, wash 
it, and prepare the meals. Either she brings in fagots of wood and 
splits it, or the young women fetch bundles of dry bamboo upon 
their heads and stack them near the ladder of the house. (See p. 
132.) She is as skilled in the use of the "dah" (long knife) as her 
husband. When the meal is cooked she sets it out, if she follows the 
old custom, on a wide wooden tray or, if she has adopted new ways. 



Plains Women Bathino in ihe Isbawaddv, in the Lee df the HiaH-BTSBHED 


on a low table. The pile of rice on the tray looks like a heap of snow. 
The curries or condiments are placed beside the tray in small cups. 
The members of the family usually eat together. If there are guests 
the women often wait, either to serve in case the supply needs 
replenishing, or because they are shy about eating with strangers. 

In addition to attending to their domestic cares, the women take 
their place beside the men in the fields. It should not be forgotten, 
however, that the latter can cook and perform the work usually 
assigned to women more readily than men in the West can. In the 
field the women and girls assist in the sowing, planting, and trans- 
planting of rice on the plains, as well as in the reaping, threshing, 
etc., doing their full share along with the men. They tend the cot- 
ton and vegetables and carry the greater part of the paddy to the 
storage-bins and from these to their homes. The only work I have 
seen men doing that I have never observed being done by women 
is plowing. 

The women mingle in the village gatherings and take part in 
the wedding and funeral festivities, their share in the latter 
being specially prominent.^ Their position in their own families 
depends largely on their personal character. If they possess strong 
personalities, they gain considerable prestige and exercise influence 
accordingly. The older they grow the more conservative they be- 
come, and not infrequently the opinions of a grandmother will keep 
a whole family from bettering its condition by engaging in some 
new occupation. The Karen grandmother holds the first place in 
the family at the "Bgha" feast, when all of the members are gath- 
ered together. She is then the "Bgha a* hko." This peculiar po- 
sition of hers has been discussed in the chapter on Feasts to the 
"Bgha." ' Its religious significance is remarkable and may be a 
relic of matriarchal government, which is still found in Tibet. But 
it does not appear to have any effect on the social position of the 
sex, except in so far as it prevents the younger members of the 
family, both men and women, from breaking with the religious and 
social traditions of their forefathers. 

In the olden days three classes of people were condemned "to 
live without the camp." These were cohabiting couples who had 
not complied with the marriage rites, widows, and orphans. A 
couple whose union had been formed without the performance and 

* See Chapter XX. p. 202. 

* See Chapter XXIV. pp. 248, 249. 


sanction of the recognized marriage ceremonies were ostracized to 
the extent of having to live outside of the village stockade or, if 
they belonged to a community living in a single village-house, they 
were required to occupy a room detached from the main building. 
The two other classes of ostracized persons, namely, widows and 
orphans, were supposed to have incurred the displeasure of their 
"Bgha," and it was feared that their misfortune would become con- 
tagious if they were allowed to remain in the village. That is, the 
"Bgha" of other families would imitate the "Bgha" of the widows* 
and orphans' families in eating the "k'las" of other husbands and 
parents, thus depriving the village of more of its members. It was 
believed that this danger could be avoided by driving the bereft 
ones into the jungle to shift for themselves. The added risk of the 
future marriage of these baneful persons was taken into account. 
This was perhaps negligible in the case of the widows, but the 
orphans should not be allowed to grow up with other children to 
become in time eligible for marriage with them. Left to range 
through the jungle, such orphans, if they survived, generally 
developed a daring and resourcefulness that inspired the ordinary 
folk of the village with wonder. Their deeds came to be thought of 
as due to a supernatural power. In short, they were believed to be 

Family Relationships 

In the chapter on Marriage Customs mention is made of the 
general chastity of the Karen and of their monogamous marriages 
within the tribe. The rule is for a man to have one wife ; but now 
and then a secondary wife or concubine, known as a "ma po tha," is 
supported. It may be that on account of the childlessness of the 
first wife the new connection has been entered into for the sake 
of offspring, or that the man has simply followed his own inclina- 
tions in the matter. Such unions are effected without the formality 
of marriage ceremonies and are not recognized by Karen society^ 
being entirely irregular. 

Westerners, accustomed as they are to doing their own court- 
ing, sometimes wonder how happy marriages can be effected in the 
case of young men and women who are strangers and have never 
met perhaps till they come together in the marriage chamber. We 
must remember, however, that with a people like the Karen the 
physical relationship is more significant than the spiritual. Senti- 

* See Chapter XXVI, pp. 269-270. 


merit cuts little or no figure in the arrangement. The parties to a 
marriage expect to live together and take the affair as a matter of 
course. At the beginning they have no affection for each other, 
but through parenthood they become united in mutual love and, as 
the years pass while their family grows up about them, they are 
bound together as securely as if they had married in the Occidental 
and more romantic way. 

In a Karen family children are desired and expected. To grow 
old and remain childless is regarded as a great misfortune. Boys 
are much preferred, but girls are not disliked as much as in China 
and some other parts of the world where they are abandoned. The 
child early accompanies its mother to the field or wherever she may 
go. In infancy it is slung in a blanket on her back, but later rides 
on her hip until long after it is able to walk. (See page 172.) 

Family relationships are not neglected among the Karen peo- 
ple, although they do not seem to keep genealogical records or 
to remember ancestors back of their grandparents. However, they 
are particular in taking account of, and displaying regard for, their 
contemporary relatives. The grandfather and grandmother, both 
paternal and maternal, are called "hpii" and "hpi," respectively. 
Great uncles and great aunts receive the same designations. The 
father and mother are, respectively, "pa" and "mo." Children are 
called "hpo," the root of this word meaning "little." Sons are "hpo 
hkwa" and daughters, "hpo mii." Contrary to the Occidental cus- 
tom of grouping brothers and sisters according to sex, a Karen 
ordinarily groups them according to whether they are younger or 
older than himself. Older brothers and sisters are "weh" and 
younger "hpii." If he desires to specify whether they are male or 
female, he employs the usual masculine and feminine designations, 
commonly adding one or the other of the words given above for son 
and daughter. Thus, for elder sister he says "weh hpo mii" and 
for younger brother "hpii hpo hkwa." While there are definite 
words for cousin, uncle, and aunt, namely, "t'khwa," "hpa hti," and 
"miigha," respectively, these are often loosely used. Any man or 
woman older than one's self may be called uncle or aunt as, for 
example, among the negroes in the United States. The word "weh," 
signifiying older brothers and sisters, as also the correlative word 
"hpii," designating younger brothers and sisters, are often used of 
cousins and more distant relatives. For instance, a cousin, called 
"weh," is usually one whose father or mother was an older brother 
or sister to one of the speaker's parents. "Hpii" would similarly 


apply to the son or daughter of a younger brother or sister of one of 
the speaker's parents. Grandchildren are "li," a word that is also 
used of grandnephews and nieces. In conversations with individual 
Karens I have almost never heard them speak of relatives back of 
their immediate grandparents, although they use an equivalent 
compound for our designation, great grandfather. They likewise 
have more or less frequent need of, and a term for, great grand- 
child, namely, "lo." 

Relationship by marriage is much esteemed among the Karen. 
It is designated by the general term "do," which is sometimes com- 
bined with the word "daw." Thus, a "daw do" is a person related 
to one by marriage. This relationship is often talked of and is re- 
membered to the second and third generation. It is not an un- 
common thing for the usual terms for brothers, sisters, and cous- 
ins to be adopted for those standing in the "daw do" relationship 
to a family. 


In the early days the Karen cultivated three or perhaps only 
two relationships in blood-brotherhood, that is, brotherhood by the 
mingling of blood. These three relationships were called "do," 
"tho," and "mwi," respectively. I should say at once that person- 
ally I have found only the two latter, and I note that in Dr. J. 
Wade's Karen Dictionary '^ no mention is made of the "do" relation. 
Hence, the query has arisen in my mind as to whether or not there 
has not been a confusion of "tho" used in a different tribe with 
"do," in somewhat the same way as "th" and "d" are interchange- 
able consonants in the Burmese language. I offer this explanation 
merely for what it is worth and proceed on the assumption, until 
conclusive evidence is adduced, that three is the correct number 
of relationships in blood-brotherhood. 

Writing back in 1868, Dr. Mason describes the "do" relation 
substantially as follows:** "The first and strongest and most sacred 
of these relationships is that of *do,' which is entered into in the 
following way. Of the two persons desiring to enter into relation- 
ship the one at home takes a hog or a chicken, cuts off the snout or 
bill, rubs the flowing blood on the legs of the other and, in case a 
fowl was used, attaches some of its feathers or down to the drying 

^ Dr. J. Wade. D.D., A Dictionary of the Sgaw Karen Lanouage. 
« Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXVII, 169. 


blood. They then consult the chicken's thigh-bones to see whether 
or not the auspices are favorable. If they are favorable, they say : 

" *We will grow old together; 

We will visit each other's houses ; 
We will go up each other's steps.' 

"The visitor then kills a hog or a fowl and performs the same 
rites on the other. On consulting the chicken bones, if the fowl's 


bones are unfavorable, he says : 

" 'We w 
We w 
We w 
We w 
We w 
We w 

11 die separately ; 

11 go separately ; 

11 work separately ; 

11 not visit each other's houses ; 

11 not go up each other's steps ; 

11 not see each other but for a short time.' " 

If the auspices are favorable, the two agree that they have 
entered into this relation of "do." They regard themselves pledged 
to each other as friends and bound to help each other in any manner 
necessary as long as they shall live. They call each other only by 
the name "do." In seasons of famine one aids the other to the extent 
of his ability. In case evil is spoken of one, the other defends 
him, saying : "That man is my *do.' Do not speak evil of him. To 
do so is to speak evil of me. I do not wish to hear it." 

Formerly it was the custom for many to multiply their "dos" 
in numerous villages, so that they might receive hospitality wher- 
ever they went and, in case of the planning of forays against some 
village, the "dos" might learn of it from their adopted brethren in 
other such communities. It is said that "dos" rarely quarreled, but 
remained faithful to each other. The institution seemed to exert a 
favorable influence on wild Karen society. Finally, Dr. Mason adds : 
"It may be compared to Masonry with its secrets." 

The relationship named "tho" is formed by two men wishing 
to become brothers, by each drawing a little blood from his fore- 
arm, mingling it in the same cup, and drinking therefrom. For- 
merly the chicken bones were inspected in connection with this 
ceremonial, although nowadays they are not always used. This 
is a lifelong relationship and binds each to defend the other. From 
the time of the mutual adoption each calls the other "tho," and 
each speaks of the other by the same name. 

The third relationship, "mwi," is one that may be mutually 
assumed by two young men, two young women, or a young man 


and a young woman. If the relationship is formed by the latter, 
they probably have met at a funeral celebration and become inter- 
ested in each other. The ceremonial requires each of the pair to 
twist seven strands of cotton into a cord to serve as a necklace. 
The youth first puts his cord over the young woman's head, taking 
great care not to touch her head-dress or person. In similar fashion 
the young woman slips her cord over the young man's head. Prob- 
ably a formula was originally repeated in confirmation of this dual 
action. If so, it has vanished together with any consultation of the 
chicken bones that may have taken place. The cords must be worn 
seven days without being broken or removed, lest the agreement 
be made void. Thereafter they address each other only as "mwi." 
The relation thus established does not allow one to take any liber- 
ties with the other, but rather tends to the safeguarding of each as 
if they were brother and sister. The relationship is supposed to be 
for life, but does not, of course, prevent the separation of the two 
by a greater or less distance. In such an event, when one goes into 
the neighborhood of the other, a present is taken along for one's 
"mwi." Often mementoes or gifts are exchanged when the com- 
pact is first made. It is current usage for school friends to call one 
another "mwi" without any ceremony, but simply in token of kindly 

The Guest-chamber and Club-room 

In the earlier days among the Karen of the hills the **blaw" 
was an important feature of village life.^ It is still retained, al- 
though it seems to have lost some of its former significance. It 
is the guest and club-room reserved in the central part of the 
village-house. Strangers coming in for a visit or passing by on 
their journey are entertained here. Such a convenience was 
quite necessary in the days when the tabu of the "Bgha'* feast 
was strictly observed, and no outsider was allowed to enter the 
family-rooms. My party and I have been entertained in the "blaw" 
of villages in the Pegu Hills on the Tharrawaddy side, while on 
tour. In one village, which had adopted some Buddhist practices, 
along one side of the guest-room extended a high shelf upon which 
stood a small image of Gautama Buddha, with the usual offerings 
of paper flage and wilted leaves and flowers. At the back of the 
room was the raised dais on which I spread my bed, but I was pre- 

' In Sir J. G. Scott's Burma, A Handbook, p. 123, this institution is referred to under the 
name of "haw.'* See also Upper Burma Gatetteer, Vol. I, Pt. T, 5S9, ff. 


vented from enjoying a good night's rest by the number of other 
occupants. My cook prepared my meals at the little fireplace in the 
middle of the room. The villagers sat about and visited with us. 
When meal-time came the women and girls brought in their gen- 
erous supplies of food, consisting of two large trays piled high 
with snow-white steaming rice, besides smaller trays and bowls 
filled with several kinds of curry, "ngape" water, and vegetables. 
The visitors were expected to eat something from every dish. While 
the meal was in progress the hosts withdrew, except one or two 
elders, the women returning afterwards to clear away the dishes 
and uneaten food with the polite remark that their guests had eaten 
very little. Many shared in receiving us ; and we were spared the 
embarrassment, not to say the danger according to our belief, of 
violating the tabu that prevented our being entertained at the time 
by a family in their own quarters. 

Besides serving as a guest-chamber, the "blaw" has another 
important use, namely, as the gathering-place for the young men 
of the village. When a boy becomes a youth ("hpo tha hkwa taw"), 
he is expected to spend his leisure time in his parents' room, work- 
ing and eating with them, as seems to be the custom. When evening 
comes, he repairs to the "blaw" to be with his fellows and to sleep 
there. This is a custom that is common among the Kachins of 
Burma and many other tribes of the Orient. Among the Kachins 
the "blaw" is a place of license. The Brecs also allow a great deal 
of liberty to their young people, and evidently advantage of it is 
taken by them. But among the Sgaw Karens, at any rate, the girls 
remain with their mothers. There is no common room for the girls, 
or any place where both youths and maidens may meet for re- 
strained intercourse. No doubt among the Karen the use of the 
"blaw" as a club-room is for the purpose of keeping the young men 
together and separating them from the young women, thus pre- 
venting offence of the "by na," which would bring a curse upon the 
soil and damage to the crops. 

It has never been possible for parents to prevent all social 
intercourse between young people of the opposite sexes. In fact, 
it has hardly ever been attempted. As is shown elsewhere in this 
volume, there are occasions among the Karen when the sexes 
mingle, for example, on fishing expeditions and at marriages, funer- 
als, etc. If, however, a youth desires to visit a maiden, etiquette 
prescribes the way: he must take his harp ("t'na"), appear before 
her house, and serenade her. Sitting down, he sings to the accom- 



paniment of his instrument. If she replies to his request to be 
permitted to visit with her, she does so on the jew's-harp ("t'xe"), 
answering him in verse. He than mounts the ladder and they visit 
together, either singing over "htas" already familiar to them or, 
if skilled in improvising, putting their own thoughts into rhyme. 
If too long an interval should elapse without the sound of either 
instrument, the elders would very likely put in an appearance to 
find out the reason. 


Slavery no longer exists among the Karen ; but when it did, it 
was incidental to war. The British acquisition of Lower Burma 
during the thirty years before 1886 brought with it the cessation of 
village raids and tribal conflicts in which the captives taken might, 
and frequently did, become slaves. Such captives were treated ac- 
cording to the changing whims of their masters. When first 
brought in they might be harangued by the leader of the victorious 
war-band, in case he chose to denounce them for starting the war 
and to recount all the alleged or real wrongs they and their peo- 
ple had inflicted upon him and his village. The proof of their guilt 
lay in their capture. While being kept in captivity they were sub- 
ject to rough treatment, such as beating and wounds, which might 
be preliminary to their being killed. If they were spared and not 
redeemed within a short time, they were either kept as slaves or sold 
to traders, who might be other Karens or Shans. Old people were 
not marketable, and it was difficult to find buyers for them at any 
price. Men and women in the prime of life, that is, between the 
ages of thirty and forty years, brought about one hundred rupees 
each ; young men and maidens, approximately three hundred rupees 
each, and boys and girls from twelve to fifteen years, who were con- 
sidered the most valuable, sold for four hundred rupees each. Such 
prices did not always prevail, for Mr. Mason in 1868 reported that 
once, when he was in Karenni, he saw two Shan women brought in 
and sold at fourteen rupees apiece. 

While slavery was a recognized institution among the Karen, it 
does not seem to have become a rigid system.^ When the cap- 
tives were redeemed, they returned to their previous status of 

* This mild form of slavery, which we And previously existing among the Karen, seems 
rather general among some of the other peoples in the neifrhboring regions, as in Borneo: see 
Hose and MacDougal. Paffan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. I, 71, ft, and Cole, Wild Tribea of the Davao 
DiBtriet of the Philippine Islands, 96, 182. 


tribesmen. When they were not redeemed, they appear to have 
lived on under the control of their masters, but, as time went on, 
became more and more accepted as members of their masters' fam- 
ilies, while the children of the slaves became ordinary villagers. In 
other words, the form of slavery that existed among the Karen did 
not lead to the permanent establishment of a slave class in the 
tribal organization. 


The Burmese were accustomed to telling early travelers in their 
country that the Karen had no laws or government. But this 
statement was wrong. The investigations of Dr. Mason some sixty 
years ago brought to light a considerable body of unwritten regu- 
lations that were preserved in memory and handed down by word 
of mouth. The Karen have no knowledge of an early lawgiver 
among their people, unless their traditions of "Y'wa" might be re- 
garded as pointing to him as having exercised such a function. These 
regulations, which are cherished as the sayings of the elders, con- 
sist of definite precepts that deal with various social relations and 
obligations, the cultivation of certain traits of character and the 
suppression of their opposites, the prevention of crime, the punish- 
ment of evil-doers, etc. I have already remarked in the chapter on 
Social Conditions that the unit of political and social life among the 
Karen is the village.^ In consequence, the village chief is the high- 
est civil authority in his little community. In the early days a chief 
of strong personality, such as Saw Lapaw of Bawlake or East Kar- 
enni, would extend his control over several villages and perhaps 
weld them into a kind of state ; but, unless this son and heir pos- 
sessed an equally dominating nature, the fabric would fall apart as 
soon as the controlling hand was removed. The organization of the 
village was patriarchal, but the government was really democratic. 
The elders of the village comprised an informal council, which heard 
all communal business and talked matters over with the chief, who 
usually expressed their opinion in rendering his decision. As a 
rule there was at least one man in every village who was especially 
versed in the ancient lore, laws, and customs, civil and religious, 
and who repeated them, together with illustrative stories, to some 
one of the younger generation who was interested in learning them. 
A village without such a legal authority was more than likely to be 
a concrete example of the proverb : "Where there is no smith, the 
axes are soft. Where there is no cock, the rooms are still." The 

^ See ante, p. 127. What follows in this chapter is largely condensed from Dr. Mason's 
article: Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXVII, Pt. II, 130-160. 



inhabitants of such a community were without proper guidance in 
the conduct of their affairs. They were left unaided by the ex- 
perience of the past. The elders in the properly instructed villages 
were the custodians of the ancient laws, which they were not sup- 
posed to change but were expected to transmit exactly as they had 
received them. 

The form in which these laws have been handed down is illus- 
trated by the following saying on love : 

"Children and grandchildren, love one another. Do not 
quarrel; do not find fault with each other. When we are in the 
village we are separate persons, but when we go to clear the fields 
we are brethren; and if one is taken sick on the road or in the 
jungle, we must take care of him. We must look after each other. 
When we cut the fields we are brethren. If one is sick, all are 
sick. If one dies, all die ; and we must carry his body back to his 
house and lay it in the hall, that his brethren may see and his wife 
and his children may see that he is dead." 

Other sayings of the elders are expressed in language similar 
to that just quoted and deal with such subjects as industry, indo- 
lence, helping the poor, widows and orphans, evil-doers, duty to 
parents, humility, swearing, covetousness, partiality, backbiting, 
hatred, quarreling, falsehood, oppression, theft, exacting fines, kill- 
ing, famines, etc. Each saying or precept is in the verbose style 
of the one given above, telling the younger generations what they 
should or should not do. Dr. Mason has recounted these various 
sayings at length, as they were reported to him by a member of the 
Bwe group of Karen tribes. The sayings thus recorded are found 
to be similar to those handed down among the Sgaw and other 
tribes. It is worthy of remark that few of the elders on the plains 
can repeat them at the present time. Dr. Mason's record covers 
some twenty pages in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 
but I shall content myself with calling attention to a few salient 
points in the precepts. 

The one on famines has but little of direct import to say about 
that specific subject. It reminds the "children" that the elder 
has seen much of life and its vicissitudes, including fires, floods, 
plagues of rats, and massacres by Burmans and Talaigns. He has 
seen one man invite another to a meal, in order to accuse him of 
stealing his food and thus have an excuse for selling him into 
slavery. He has seen a bronze drum exchanged for a sheaf of paddy 


and a basket of grain sold for a basket of money. He has seen the 
people dig unhealthy yams and suffer from eating them. In the last 
three statements the elder is clearly showing the effects of a great 
scarcity of grain, both on the price one had to pay for food and on 
the people who were reduced to the necessity of eating bad food. 
His reference to fires, floods, plagues, and massacres seem intended 
to suggest the causes of some of the famines that have come under 
his observation. Notwithstanding the importance of the subject he 
is dealing with, the elder addresses no exhortation to his hearers, 
except by implication. 

The precept on indolence is full of moralizing. It condemns 
laziness and enjoins hard work in order to obtain paddy. It teaches 
the people to do their work with cheerfulness and gladness, as also- 
thoroughly and well. "We love happiness," says the precept, "and 
our greatest happiness is to clear our fields and build our houses. 
Everything is in the earth. Work hard with the hoe to dig it out, 
and one can buy drums and silver and other things. It is better 
to work for wealth than to obtain it by raids and forays." This 
saying overlooks neither the spiritual nor material rewards of labor. 

The precept on helping the poor, as well as those on forni- 
cation and adultery, contain references to famine, indicating that 
periods of extreme dearth of food must have been of frequent oc- 
currence among the Karen. Fornication and adultery are dreadful 
sins because, among other reasons, they produce bad crops and 
scarcity of game. In times of famine the rich should help the poor, 
but the obligation of the former to the latter seems to stop there, 
so far as the sayings of the elders go. The admonition to help the 
poor is as follows : 

"Children and grandchildren, work, every one of you, and be 
prepared for a time of famine. Then, when a time of scarcity or 
famine comes, let not the rich and those who have all the rice and 
paddy reject the poor who have nothing, that you may not lose 
your honor and be abused, but may be honored and respected. 
When hard times come and there is famine amongst you, let the 
wealthy help those who have nothing with which to buy and who 
can not borrow." 

In a similar vein the people are urged to care for widows 
and orphans lest other countries, hearing of their mistreatment 
of their helpless ones, shall abuse them and call them poverty- 
stricken. Even if there are rich men among them, others will not 


believe it. This precept does not appear to have been well observed 
in practice.* . 

Love of peace is enjoined, because it conduces to happiness. 
long life, and prosperity. The daughters of one who loves peace. 

DipnNQ Wates noM a Shallow Stkbam 

ThcK litUe sirb arc all wcarins the alnile while "hie." but the nen have 

their loiiu (irded up atter the BunncM faihion. 

the people are assured, will conduct themselves with propriety, and 
his sons will live happily. Evil-doers are doomed to ruin and dis- 
aster. Their "drums will become the property of others, their 
daughters will become slaves, and their sons, servants. Their lands 
will be destroyed, and their country will come to destruction. Evil- 
doers do not live to grow old." 

The section relating to duties to parents recounts the many 
cares of parents and enlarges on the expenditure of strength and 
sympathy by the mother in behalf of her children. The deduction 
set forth is that children should care for their parents when they 
grow old and provide them with food and drink. Those who fail in 
the performance of such filial duties will suffer for their sin, and 


their work will not bring success. They will become sickly, weak, 
and helpless. 

The virtue of humility is extolled at length, as one who knows 
the Karen people might expect. The people are told that he who 
does not humble himself but exalts himself, who regards his rela- 
tives with disdain, makes forays, is extortionate, beats others for 
nothing, and, in general, does as he pleases, will die young. Such a 
man will be punished by the Lord of heaven, losing his drums and 
money, being left wretched and childless, unable to work, without 
means to purchase anything, and to die without apparent cause. 

Cursing is condemned, and its retributive consequences are 
shown in the story of a man who was the father of ten children 
and cursed one of his brethren without a reason. The curse did 
not harm the one on whom it was pronounced, but reacted upon the 
other, causing the death of every one of his children. Among the 
other evils denounced and forbidden are covetousness, partiality, 
backbiting, hatred, quarreling, falsehood, and exacting fines for the 
infringement of arbitrary rules or for trespass on one's property. 
The condemnation of such vices, as well as the encouragement of 
mutual helpfulness, filial piety, generosity to the needy and helpless, 
and fear of punishment by the Lord of heaven, show that the Karen 
had no mean standards of personal conduct. Whether these ideals 
were lived up to or not is another question. In fact, cursing a 
person by whom one had been injured was a recognized form of 
retaliation and punishment. It was necessary to go to his house, 
stand in front of his door, and recite certain verses imprecating 
him. The person venting his wrath must do this three evenings 
in succession, taking with him on the third evening an expiring 
fagot, an addled egg, and the scrapings from the dish out of which 
the pigs are fed. On this occasion he closes his imprecation with 
the words : "May his life go out like this dying fagot. May he be 
without posterity like this egg. May his end be like the refuse of 
the dishes." 

Theoretically, the principle of the old Mosaic law of a tooth for 
a tooth and an eye for an eye was valid among the Karen, but it 
was tempered in the sayings of the elders as follows : "In order not 
to subject ourselves to fines and punishment, we must allow others 
to treat us as they choose. If we are struck, we must not strike 
again. If one strikes your head, strike the floor. If some one 
blinds you, do not blind him in return. The long is before ; the short 
is behind [that is, the future is long ; the past is short] . Love of 


peace gives a wide space ; love of evil gives a narrow space. If we 
want evil, it is present even before all the water has run out of a 
vessel that has been upset." 

The people were warned not to commit fornication or adultery. 
When they married they were to do so openly. They were told that 
if they were guilty of fornication, their sons and their daughters 
would die and the country would be defiled and destroyed on their 
account. The begetting of illegitimate children was declared to 
be displeasing to "Thi Hko Mil Xa," the Lord of heaven and earth, 
and to be the cause of irregularity of the rains, bad crops, failure 
of seeds and vegetables to germinate, disappointment in the hunt, 
poverty, and slavery. On the discovery of illicit relations between 
two of the villagers they were brought before the elders, who re« 
quired the guilty persons to buy and kill a hog and each of them 
to dig a furrow in the ground with a leg of the animal. They were 
then to fill the furrows with the blood of the hog, after which they 
were to scratch the soil into little holes and mounds while repeat- 
ing the following prayer: "Lord of heaven and earth, God of the 
mountains and hills. I have destroyed the productiveness of the 
country. Do not be angry with me, do not hate me ; but have mercy 
on me and pity me. I now repair the mountains. I heal the hills and 
the streams with my hands. May there be no failure of crops, no 
unsuccessful labor, or unfortunate efforts in my country. Let them 
be dissipated on the distant horizon. Make the paddy fruitful and 
the rice abundant. Cause the vegetables to flourish. If we cul- 
tivate but little, may we obtain but little." When each of the guilty 
pair had completed this ceremonial, they said that they had made 
reparation and returned to their houses. In Shwegyin, however^ 
such culprits were driven from the village and required to live 

Among the Bwes it was customary to fine adulterers, unless 
they were single or widowed ; but if a wife was involved, her para- 
mour was compelled to pay a fine to the injured husband and take 
the woman as his wife, the former husband being considered di- 
vorced and free to marry again with the money he had received. 
In case a husband was found guilty of adultery, the woman con- 
cerned must pay a fine to the injured wife, who became free to 
contract another marriage. 

If the crops were poor, the villagers suspected that it was due 
to secret sins of this sort and felt the need of making offerings to 

a See pp. 192, 287. 


appease the Lord of heaven and earth and to find out the guilty 

On the subject of stealing the exhortation of the elders was 
not to steal, destroy, defraud, or act dishonestly. Such deeds are by 
no means secret. Even though unconfessed, they become manifest 
in the ordeal by water and in that of ascending a tree. The God of 
heaven sees. The Lord of the mountains and hills, "Thi Hko Mii 
Xa," sees. If one is hungry, one should work, should bend the back. 
If one wants fish, one should use the hand-net. If one desires game, 
let one repair to the jungle for it. Families are to be fed in this 
way, not by stealing or by running into debt. 

A person who had been caught stealing might be let off, if it 
was his first offense and he restored the stolen property and prom- 
ised to reform. If, however, he became a confirmed thief, he was 
sold into slavery. In some parts of the Toungoo district it was not 
uncommon for one guilty of stealing to pay the penalty with his life. 
If positive proof was lacking and there was doubt as to his guilt, 
the ordeal by water was resorted to. 

Murder was, of course, utterly condemned in the sayings of 
the elders, for ''man is not like the beasts. He has a Lord and 
Master. We are the children of Thi Hko, of Y'wa who created us. 
Therefore, do not kill one another." The murderer will be surren- 
dered to the Lord of the lands and will be put to death. He can 
not escape. His body will be left naked in the fields, and the vul- 
tures will devour it. "These things," the elders declare, "have we 
seen with our own eyes, and we know them, and they have Dften 
happened among us." However, the circumstances under which a 
murder was committed were taken into account. A homicide at a 
drunken feast was considered an accident, for it was thought that 
the one guilty of the crime would not have committed it had he 
been sober. No cause for an action existed in such a case. 

Men killed while taking part in a foray were to be redeemed, 
that is, a fine was to be paid for them, unless the leader had been 
excused from such payment in advance.* Likewise, the accidental 
death of a man during a trading, hunting, or other trip undertaken 
at the request of another, was chargeable to the latter, because 
otherwise it would not have occurred. 

The recognized way of bringing to justice an offender who was 
accused of causing the death of another, was for the near relatives 

* See p. 157. 


of the latter to take active measures to avenge themselves. A dy- 
ing father, whose condition was due to the assault of an enemy 
or who had suffered other injury, would charge his sons to avenge 
his wrong. The chief and the elders, recognizing the justice of the 
cause, would further it and join in to punish the guilty inhabitant 
of another village. As a precaution against a fatal accident or a 
secret murder, persons were not allowed to have in their possession 
dangerous poisons gathered from the jungle. Any one guilty of do- 
ing so was acting unlawfully and was condemned by the elders to 
be bound out in the hot sun for three days. He had also to destroy 
his store of poisonous herbs and to promise never to commit the 
offense again. After this he might be received again into the 
village, or he might be sold into slavery. If he was believed guilty 
of murder, his life was taken. 

There appears to have been no law against suicide, and per- 
haps for this reason, as well as others, the practice was once com- 
mon among the people. Nevertheless, voluntary self-destruction is 
regarded as an act of cowardice and, though not spoken of as dis- 
pleasing to the spiritual powers, it prevented an honorable burial 
from being given to the one guilty of it. Hanging has been the 
usual method of committing the act among the Karens, while taking 
poison has been the common means of suicide among the Burmese. 
Incurable diseases, great disappointment, jealousy, and forcing a 
young woman to marry some one she dislikes, have been the usual 
causes of self-murder. Dr. Mason mentions a young man who was 
able to recall the occurrence of twenty-five suicides in a group of 
villages within a period of fifteen years. At the present time, prob- 
ably on account of outside influences, such instances are rare indeed. 

Inheritance regulations and customs are not definite or uniform 
among the Karen ; but usually property is divided among the chil- 
dren, the eldest being given a little more than the others and the 
youngest receiving a slightly smaller share. The widow has no legal 
right to anything, although she generally succeeds in retaining the 
use of more or less of the property during her lifetime. Should she 
marry again, even this quasi-right terminates. The second husband 
can not appropriate the property of the first, nor can his children 
share it. 

It seems hardly necessary to comment on the worthy ideals 
and fundamental principles of human conduct embodied in the pre- 


cepts of the elders, which we have been discussing in this chapter. 
They constituted a code which, if it had been observed, would 
have produced a highly developed society, in ao far as the virtues 
are concerned. But, as in the case of many primitive peoples, the 
Karen have fallen far short of their traditional ideals, a fact mani- 
fest, I think, from the record presented in the pa^es of this volume. 
It may be said with little fear of contradiction, however, that the 
Karen have more nearly lived up to the commonly accepted stand- 
ards of human conduct than some of the other peoples dwelling in 
their vicinity. 

Buffaloes at Theib Daily Bat 


Private Forays 

Two or three generations have elapsed since the Karen in 
Lower Burma indulged in their old-time warfare, which consisted 
of forays secretly organized and carefully executed against their 
enemies. In the Toungoo Hills and in Karenni these raids have been 
suppressed only in recent years, as the regions named have been 
brought more fully under British rule. The people used to call such 
expeditions "ta hseh hsu ma beu/' which means a strong and con- 
cealed thrust. A foray was undertaken by an individual to avenge 
a personal wrong committed by an inhabitant of another village. 
It was a recognized method of settling a grievance, like the sheriff's 
execution of the judgment obtained in a suit at law in a more civ- 
ilized community. The conflict was not one between village and vil- 
lage, but between personal enemies. The man who inaugurated the 
foray set up his spear in the open space of his village and marked 
a white line half-way up on the spear shaft. Those who were ready 
to go on the expedition and renounce the right of their families 
to an indemnity in case they were killed, placed their marks above 
the half-way line, while those willing to join without making this 
renunciation added their marks below it. Of course, the chicken 
bones had to be consulted both as to the feasibility of the raid and a 
favorable time for it. 

When this time had arrived, the organizer of the foray killed a 
hog or a fowl ; took a bit of the heart, liver, and entrails ; minced 
them together; added a little salt, and wrapped the mixture in a 
leaf. This talisman was then entrusted to two spies, who were to 
carry it to the village where the foe dwelt. They were admonished 
to note whether or not any spikes were planted along the paths 
leading to the place, the best means of access thereto, and the pre- 
cise location and general arrangement of the village. Finally, they 
were to visit with the inhabitants there and find an opportunity 
of dropping the contents of their leaf into the food of their hosts. 
If they succeeded in this last stratagem, they were supposed to 



have swathed the heads of their foes. That is, their hosts by par- 
taking of the talisman would become so confused as to fail to seize 
their weapons when needed for defense and would be overwhelmed 
by the enemy. Unlike the spies of Israel these Karen spies, on their 
return, usually gave a favorable report and displayed great eager- 
ness for the combat. 

The instigator of the foray now sent out for his men, who came 
not only from his own village, but also from neighboring ones where 
he had friends and blood-brothers. He might gather in as many as 
two hundred warriors. These he feasted, but before passing around 
the liquor he poured some on the ground as a kind of libation, while 
praying : 

"Lord of the seven heavens and the seven earths. Lord of the 
rivers and streams, the mountains and hills. We give thee liquor to 
drink and rice to eat. Help us, we entreat thee. We will go forth 
now and attack yon village. We have swathed the heads of the 
inhabitants. Assist us. Render their minds oblivious and cause 
them to forget themselves, that they may sleep heavily and their 
slumber may be unbroken. Let not a dog bark at us, nor a hog grunt 
at us. Grant that the villagers may not seize a bow, sword, or spear. 
May the Lord help my children and grandchildren who go to attack 
yon village, and may he deliver them from all harm. May they sub- 
due their enemies and not be lost. May they be delivered from the 
bow, the sword, and the spear." 

After this prayer the elders drank in turn of the liquor, and it 
was then circulated freely among the assembled warriors. The in- 
stigator of the foray now killed a fowl, preparatory to inspecting its 
bones for a favorable omen as to the success of the undertaking, 
but before the inspection he offered up the following petition : 

"Fowl, possessor of superhuman powers, fore-endowed with 
divine intelligence, thou scratchest with thy feet and peckest with 
thy bill. Thou goest to Hku Te (the king of death). Thou goest 
to The Na (monarch of death). Thou goest to Shi U, the brother 
of God. Thou goest into the presence of God. Thou seest unto the 
verge of heaven and unto the edge of the horizon. I now purpose 
to go and attack yon village. Shall we be hit? Shall we be ob- 
structed? If we go, shall we suffer? Shall we die by the bow? 
Shall we be pierced by the spear ? Shall we grow weary or exhaust 
ourselves ? If so, reveal thyself unfavorably." ^ 

^ This prayer, in which superhuman powers are attributed to the fowl, is similar to 
prayers of the Kenyas of Borneo, who ascribe like powers to the pi^. 


If the reading of the chicken bones proved unfavorable, an- 
other fowl was slain, and a third, if necessary. On obtaining a 
favorable omen, the organizer of the raid harangued his men, tell- 
ing them that they would surely prove victorious, that he would 
indemnify the families of any who might be killed, and that he 
would replace all weapons that might be lost or broken. He as- 
sured them that he expected all to return, and declared that no 
disaster could befall them. Thereupon he called for two volunteers 
to lead in ascending the ladder to the village-house and making the 
attack on the arrival of the war-band at its destination. Address- 
ing the volunteer leaders, he promised them drums and buffaloes 
as rewards for the deeds of valor they were soon to perform. They 
were to be the hunting dogs, the wild boars, full of cunning and 
courage. If they should be slain, their families would receive the 
rewards. If, however, they failed, the disaster of the expedition 
would be their fault. 

At length, the war-band set forth, chanting verses, as follows : 

"I go to war. I am sent. 
I go to fight. I am sent. 
Clothe me with an iron breastplate. 
Give to me the iron shield. 
I am not strong. May I take on strength. 
I am weak. May I attain vigor." 

"I go with a host of men. 
We will reach the steps of the house 
And fire muskets and shout aloud. 
The men will come with wives and children. 
Raise the spear and draw the sword. 
Smite the neck and pierce the side. 
The blood is gushing purple." 

"The great hawk flies above the house. 
It pounces on the chief's red cock. 
It grasps its prey near the lowest step. 
It seizes then the chief's white cock, 
And the great hawk flies away. 
Leaving the chief behind in tears." 

Whatever one may think of the poetic quality of these three 
stanzas, they depict vividly the successive stages in their adven- 
ture, as the chanting braves conceived it. In the first stanza they 


Kaieh CniLS or tub Putins Cabryinq Watek in Earthen Pots or Bua- 


don their armor and muster up their wavering courage. In the 
second they go into action with their lust for blood fully aroused. 
In the third they compare themselves to the great hawk carrying 
off its prey before the eyes of the chief, whose village they have 
invaded. The mission of the war-band was to accomplish some 
such program as this. 

The warriors so timed their march as to reach the vicinity 
of the foe's village after dark, distributed their force around the 
unsuspecting inhabitants before dawn, and sallied forth with a 
great shout as soon as it was light. The charge against the village- 
house was led by the two volunteers, and all the inmates who 
jumped to the ground were cut down or pierced with spears by the 
armed men in waiting. No quarter was shown, even the women 
and children being either sla:n or taken captive, according to the 
orders of the instigator of the raid. Their main object was evi- 
dently plunder, for they lopped off the heads, hands, and feet of 
their victims, in order to obtain the necklaces, bracelets, and anklets 
more easily. They also slew the small children, perhaps because 
they would otherwise be doomed to a lingering death. 

From an old man I learned of one of these forays, in which 
his father had participated while still a young man. The father 
professed to have had but little interest in the expedition, being 
forced to join it by circumstances. Lagging behind the other mem- 
bers of the attacking party, he saw two girls who had escaped from 
the house and hidden in the forest. When they saw him they 
started to run, thus disclosing themselves to others who gave chase, 
struck them down with their swords, cut off their hands to get their 
bracelets, and left them to die. A man and his wife and baby were 
also in a fair way to escape, but were hard pressed by pursuers, 
whereupon the husband compelled his wife to throw away the 
infant, who impeded her progress; and as they rounded the crest 
of a hill they looked back only to see their child being cut to pieces. 

If the villagers made too stout a resistance to the first onset, 
the raiders set fire to the inflammable bamboo structure, thereby 
bringing the conflict to a quick conclusion, though at the same time 
reducing the amount of available loot. They frequently mutilated 
the bodies of their victims, carrying off their jaw-bones as trophies 
of their ghastly work. It is not clear from any extant records 
that the Karen were once head-hunters, but this may have been the 
case. In token of the utter destruction of a village, vegetable seeds 
were sometimes planted on its desolate site. 


The organizer of the foray did not go in person with his men, 
lest he be killed and thus rendered unable to dispense the spoils, 
but remained at home to receive and reward the valiant fighters on 
their return with the booty. As they approached, they announced 
their victory by the notes of their horns. After being welcomed 
with a feast, they were sent to their homes. Any claims for in- 
demnity on the part of the families of slain warriors were now 
settled, some of the booty being evidently used for this purpose, 
the rest of the plunder and such captives as were brought back be- 
coming the property of the duly avenged and victorious one. The 
captives remained slaves, unless they were redeemed by their rela- 
tives. If they were not redeemed, they were often sold in exchange 
for oxen or buffaloes, one of which might be presented to each of 
the villages represented in the war-band. No indignities of any 
sort were visited upon women captives, prisoners of both sexes 
being kept for awhile either in rude stocks or within the house. 

Redemption of Captives 

It sometimes happened that a number of captured villagers 
would escape from their captors. In such a case they would imme- 
diately try to effect the redemption of any of their relatives still 
remaining in captivity. For this purpose they would engage an 
elder of a neighboring village and send him to negotiate the terms. 
If the victor was inclined to listen to the proposals of this agent, 
he gave evidence of accepting his good offices by killing a pig, 
cutting off its snout, and smearing some of the flowing blood on 
the legs of the messenger. This betokened the early return of 
peace and brotherhood between the belligerents, together with the 
redemption of the captives. In further proof of his successful 
mission the negotiator brought back the head and legs of the slain 
pig. There was still danger of a quarrel over the redemption price 
that might be demanded by the victor. 

With the conclusion of the negotiations and the establishment 
of peace, the peace-making water must be drunk. This was con- 
cocted by putting chippings or filings from a spear, sword, musket- 
barrel, and stone into a cup with a little blood from a dog, a pig, 
and a fowl, and filling the remainder of the cup with water. The 
dog's skull was then split open, and the participants in this solemn 
ceremony, namely, the victor and the leader of the peace delega- 
tion, each hung a part of the skull around his neck and took 


hold of the cup, while they mutually promised to terminate their 
feud, to intermarry their children, not to destroy each other's 
property, and to live amicably together unto the third generation. 
In pledge of these promises each of the twain drank of the cup. 
Imprecations were then called down upon the head of any one who 
should renew the feud, and the visiting delegation was dismissed. 
A shower of arrows was sent after the departing guests, and a salute 
of muskets was fired in token of the power of the raiders. Some- 
times the peace-making water was drunk and the pledges were 
made under a hardy and well-known tree, on which a notch was 
cut in testimony of the compact. Dr. Mason in his account of these 
forays and peace pacts states that the Karen had no monuments 
other than these notched trees. ^ 

As already remarked above, the treaty of peace was ratified 
between the organizer of the victorious raid and the vanquished 
villagers. The former and his descendants were bound by the com- 
pact not to renew the attack; but that did not prevent another 
foray if a new occasion arose for seeking redress, just as a man in 
a more advanced community might win a suit against another and 
be compelled to go to law with him again to settle a fresh dispute. 
Moreover, the pact did not remove the possibility of another foray 
being organized by some other inhabitant of the village where the 
first one originated, for the purpose of revenge on his own account. 
Thus, it would appear that these treaties were not mere "scraps of 
paper," and yet they did not suffice to prevent frequent raids. It 
was not until numbers of the Karen removed to the plains and 
thus came more closely into contact with a common enemy, the 
Burmese people, against whom they had to defend themselves, that 
they seem to have largely given up the killing of one another. I 
have not been able to find any evidence to show that the Burmese 
Government exercised its power in suppressing the forays among 
the Karen, and I think that such private wars decreased in number 
for the reason just given. 


The weapons used by the Karen in their fighting were 
spears, javelins, swords, and flint-lock and match-lock guns. 
The crossbow seems not to have been well adapted for warfare 
and has been kept for hunting. The commonest forms of fighting 

2 Journal, Aniatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXVII, Pt. II, p. 161. 


implements were spears and javelins. These were usually made 
with iron heads either of small bayonet-shape or elongated elipse- 
shape sharpened to a point. In the case of the larger spears the 
head measures about two feet in length and two or three inches 
across at the widest part of the blade. The shaft of some hard wood 
is five or six feet long. 

The Karen Thesauriis distinguishes among three kinds of 
swords or "na," as they are collectively called by the people them- 
selves. One kind is the two-edged sword with a sharp point ("na 
thweh hko") ; the second is a blunt sword shaped like the tail of 
an eel ("na nya hti meh"), and the third is square at the end and 
can be used for cutting only ("na xu hko").^ These swords were 
carried in sheathes of a type similar to those seen among the 
Shan, formed of two pieces of bamboo held together by rattan bands 
woven around them. No one knows whether or not these weapons 
are native with the Karen. They may have been copied from the 
Shan. Besides the three kinds of swords, the Karen used a long 
knife ("dah") for both defensive and offensive purposes, which is 
devoted nowadays to domestic employment.* 

During the sixteenth century the Portuguese carried on an 
extensive trade in firearms in the East, especially in Burma. In 
this way the Karen tribes became familiar with flint-lock and 
match-lock guns, owning numbers of them. In numerous instances 
the stock of the gun had no butt to be held against the shoulder, as 
in the case of European and American guns, but a handle that was 
held against the cheek. Powder was "pounded out" in a mortar con- 
taining sulphur, saltpeter, and charcoal, all native products. The 
sulphur was often obtained from the deposits of bat dung found in 
the limestone caves that are numerous in the Moulmein district. In- 
deed, one of the common names for gun-powder was "bla-e," mean- 
ing bat dung. Inasmuch as lead mines have long been known in 
Burma and on the Chinese border, I presume that the Karen got the 
material for their bullets from these. When lead was not to be had, 
they substituted small round stones. 

The approaches to the villages were guarded by burying sharp- 
ened bamboo spikes, hardened with fire, in the paths, leaving only 
the point protruding at a sufficient angle to catch the foot of the 
passer-by. These almost hidden spikes inflicted terrible wounds in 

* For the weapons used in huntinsr see pp. 104, if. 

* Karen Thesaurus^ Vol. Ill, 154 ; Cross, Karen-EnoliBh Dictionary, 907. 


the bare feet of the enemy who was careless enough to run into 

In the early times the participants in a foray equipped them- 
selves with armor and shields, although such protective contriv- 
ances are almost unknown at the present time. The armor was a 
sort of jacket of thick hides thought to be serviceable in warding off 
the strokes and thrusts of sword and spear. The name by which it 
was known was "f xo." Shields, called "k' taw," were constructed 
of wood and covered with a tough skin. I have not been able to 
learn from any one what was their shape or just how they were 
made. However, Mr. F. H. Gates, the political officer of Karenni, 
gives us this bit of information on the subject: "A generation 
or two back these people carried a shield made of plank covered 
with buffalo hide and studded with brass nails." He adds that no 
specimens of these shields are to be obtained now.= 


Karen Music 

The Karen use the i)entatonic or five-toned scale* which has be- 
longed to the flastem nations since early times. This scale consists 
of the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth intervals of the modern 
octave. They appear to know nothing of different musical keys» but 
in starting a tune try one pitch or another until they have found 
the range suitable to their voices. They do not keep accurate time 
in their singing, but hold one or another tone as suits their fancy, 
introducing quavers on the long notes and sliding down or slurring 
from one tone to the next. Some words and phrases they repeat 
over and over again, thereby suggesting the repetitions in an an- 
them. As they sing in minor strain, their music has a quality of 

On their instruments they play tunes that are not rendered 
vocally. This is especially true of the melodies they play on the 
pipes ("hpi ba"), rather than of set compositions. These pipes are 
capable of producing really beautiful music, consisting largely of 
improvised runs and variations, demanding no small skill.^ 

It is to be regretted that, with the acceptance of Christianity, 
the Karen have almost entirely dropped their own music for that 
of the West. Hymns particularly appeal to them. Perhaps this is 
due to their desire to leave their pre-Christian life altogether behind 
them, as well as to the more animated quality of our Western mu- 
sic. However, a few Karen melodies have been adapted to hymns 
and have been recently incorporated in their hymnbook through the 
efforts of the Rev. E. N. Harris, of Toungoo. 

Musical Instruments 

The Karen have seven or eight primitive musical instruments, 
besides drums, cymbals, and gongs. Those in common use are the 

^ For this note on Karen music and the score of the accompanying "hta" I am indebted 
to Mrs. U. B. White, of Rangoon. 



harp, the jew's-harp, the bamboo guitar or fiddle, the xylophone, the 
flute, the graduated-pipes, the gourd bag-pipe, and the wedding- 
horn. In the olden days every Karen youth possessed a harp 
("t'na"), which he carried with him on all occasions. Even at the 
present time in the villages along the Pegu range one can generally 
hear these soft-toned instruments. Indeed, in the middle of the 
night one's sleep may be disturbed by the monotonous strumming 
on one of them by some wakeful old man, who is trying to beguile 
the slowly moving hours. 

The body of the harp is hollowed out of a block of wood and 
looks not unlike a miniature dug-out canoe less than two feet long 
and about five inches in width. A strip of deerskin (of the barking- 
deer) is stretched across the open top, and lengthwise along the 
middle of this a piece of wood is fastened to which the strings are 
attached. The other ends of the strings are fastened to pegs that 
fit into holes in the arm of the instrument. This arm is curved 
somewhat like the prow of a boat and is inserted into the sharper 
end of the body of the instrument. Formerly the strings consisted 
of cotton fibre, but fine brass wire, bought at the bazaars, is now 
substituted for the cotton strings. (See frontispiece.) 

I have seen a few harps that were made of bamboo, a large 
section between the nodes being utilized for the body, of which the 
open side was covered with deerskin extending well down along 
either edge and fastened with thong-lacing underneath. From 
one end of this body, and firmly lashed to it, was an arm of wood, 
the strings being strung from this across to a cleat fastened 
to the deerskin. This instrument is a very resonant one. In the 
Pegu Hills the harps have seven strings, the upper one serving only 
as a stay ; but farther north five strings seem to be the rule, all be- 
ing tuned and played.^ 

The jew's-harp ("t'xe") is usually considered the women's in- 
strument, though there is a short one played by the men. When 
wooed by the youth with his harp, the maiden replies with her jew's- 
harp. This instrument consists of a narrow strip of bamboo a 
foot long and an inch wide at one end, from which it tapers 
gradually to a point at the other. The tongue is cut in the wider 

' The Burmese harp ia Bimilar in form to the first one described above, but has thirteen 
■trinsB, although the musical scale of both the Burmese and Karen harps compriseB only five tones. 
For an account of Burmese music, see Sir J. G. Scott's Burma, A Handbook of Practiealf CofH" 
fnercial, and Political Information, 352-357. 



end. The specimens I have seen were hardened and blackened 
over a fire and looked like ebony. Old men have told me that in the 
days when raids by Burman dacoits were common, the scattered 
Karen who were hiding in the jungle, fearing lest some of their 
foes were still in ambush, would signal to one another by playing 

Karen Jew's-harps— (a) Men's jew's-harp. (b) Women's jew's-harp. 

certain notes on these jew's-harps. Familiar with the sounds thus 
produced, which were unintelligible to their enemies, they were 
able to find one another and come together again. 

A very primitive kind of guitar or fiddle ("thaw tu") consists 
of three strings stretched along one side of a hollow bamboo, which 

A Karen Guitar 


has long longitudinal slits on either side of the strings to emit the 
sound. This instrument may be played with the fingers like a gui- 


tar or with a bow, which is nothing more than a smooth strip of 
bamboo. Nowadays the stringrs are brass wires fixed in slits at one 
end and held in place at the other by a cord around the barrel of 
the instrument. I am told that formerly the strings were made by 
cutting away the silicious surface of the bamboo and leaving a few 
fibres, which were then raised above the rest of the stock by run- 
ning a knife under them and inserting little blocks as bridges at 
either end to hold the strings taut. 

The "paw ku" resembles somewhat the African xylophone and 
is often made by individuals from green bamboos while stopping to 
rest by the roadside. After they have played a few strains on it 
they pass on, leaving it to dry up. It consists of eleven tubes rang- 
ing from seven and one-half inches to twenty inches in length and 
from an inch and a half to six inches in circumference. One end 
of each tube is cut off square at a node of the bamboo, while the 
other is sharpened like a quill pen. The distance from the closed 
end to the shank, where the opening begins, varies from two and 
one-quarter inches for the tube producing the highest tone to eleven 
and one-half for that producing the lowest. In addition to this 
series, there is a base pipe thirteen and three-quarters inches from 
the node to the shank and thirty-two inches to the point. This one 
is an octave below the third largest tube of the series and, when 
played, is struck with another pipe, whiqh is as long as the fifth 
tube of the instrument. These two are called "klo" (drum) and 
"klo a deu" (drum enclosure), respectively. The player strikes the 
tubes of the xylophone with small mallets whittled out of bamboo, 
while the bass accompaniment is played, usually by a second per- 
former, on the "klo." The tones are not unlike those produced by 
playing on different sized bottles. (See illustrations on p. 165.) 

The "po dwa" is an open bamboo pipe about a cubit in length 
with three or seven holes down the side, as the case may be. It is 
not played with the instrument held in the position of the trans- 
verse flute or the military fyf e, but in a more or less vertical posi- 
tion like the flageolet, with the notched end of the instrument rest- 
ing against the chin just below the lips. The player blows over the 
notch and secures the different tones by opening and closing the 
holes like a flute-player. 

An instrument of graduated pipes, similar to the "Pan's pipes" 
known among the ancient Greeks, is familiar in the Tenasserim divi- 


PuiiHO THi "Paw Ku" « Kaben Xylopho 
The nan at the risht li playing the ban accompaniment i 
wfalk) the other itilkei the other tuba, which are oU li 



sion. It comprises a number of slender bambpo tubes ranging from 
a foot or more to three or four feet in length, bound together in a 
bundle by rattans. "Hpi ba" is the name applied to the instru- 
ment by the Karen, who play it with considerable skill and use it 
frequently. It is said to be of Talain or of Siamese origin.* 

I I j ij iiJj-jii ^^ 






, n O 



Musical Score of a Karen "Hta" or Poem 

The Toungoo Karen, either the Ker-ko or the Padaung, make an 
instrument, which suggests a bag-pipe, by inserting five bamboo 
tubes in a gourd. The player blows into the stem of the gourd and 
fingers the holes in the tubes to produce the different sounds. 

* These giaduated-pipes exhibit a striking: similarity to those found in Malaysia, Borneo, and 
the Philippine Islands : Skeat and Blasrdon, Pagan Races of the Malay P&ntnsuUit Vol. II, p. 
145 ; Hose and McDougall, Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. II, p. 192, and the figures opposite p. 
122 : Cole, Davao Tribes, p. 110. 

Illustrations of musical instruments used by the Bangala and Bajande tribes of the Coniro 
region, includins; just such a harp as the Karen have, are given in George OtrenfeU and the 
Congo, Vol. II, p. 719. An instrument like the graduated-pipes of the Karen is shown in A. W. 
Niewenhuis's Quer durch Borneo, Vol. II, p. 142. 


The wedding-horn or "kweh" has but three notes, but should 
be included in the list of musical instruments. It consists of a foot 
or more of the smaller end of a buffalo horn, or an elephant's tusk 
hollowed out and the tip cut off, so that a hole the size of a pencil 
is left through the truncated tip, and a reed (made nowadays of a 
piece of tin or brass) is inserted as a mouthpiece, on the concave 
side of the curve midway between the two ends. The player pro- 
duces different tones by blowing or inhaling through the reed and by 
closing or opening the hole in the tip with his thumb. Sometimes 
these horns are ornamented by encircling the two ends with silver 
bands. The ivory instrument is thought to be a choicer one than 
that made of buffalo horn. 

Drums, cymbals, and gongs of Burmese manufacture are often 
found nowadays in Karen villages. 


Dancing of any sort appears to be very little cultivated among 
the Karen. The practice of walking or parading around the corpse 
at a funeral can hardly be called dancing, for the participants do 
not perform any special steps, or move in figures, or observe time 
and rythm apart from the chanting of their verses. No one has 
been able to tell me anything about dancing among the Sgaw Karen. 
Colonel MacMahon has, however, given an account of a ball held in 
his honor by the Tsaw-ku Karens in the Toungoo Hills. At this 
dancing party the whole company moved forward, backward, and 
sideways, swaying their arms up and down, except that they ex- 
tended them backward when they courtesied. The women wore a 
special headdress of basket-work, like a brimless hat, which was 
adorned with beads and the wings of green beetles. This headgear 
proved to be a novelty, even to the members of other Karen tribes 
who constituted Colonel MacMahon's retinue.^ 

^ MacMahon, The Karens of the Golden Chersonese, p. 291. 


Birth Customs 

Among the Sgaw Karen in the Pegu Hills and on the plains 
there appear to be but few special customs connected with the 
births of children. Offspring are desired, and a large family gives 
joy to the parents. A pregnant woman experiences but little light- 
ening of her usual tasks and works up to the time of her delivery. 
The prospective mother is expected to omit bitter herbs and fruits 
from her diet, as these are thought to be harmful to her ; while her 
husband avoids having his hair cut during her pregnancy, lest it 
should bring ill-luck and shorten the life of the child. 

Old women usually serve as midwives and are sometimes be- 
lieved to possess considerable skill in aiding delivery, although they 
are without special training for the function they perform. Cus- 
tom is too deeply ingrained for them to profit much from their own 
experience. They resort to massage to hasten the birth, and in 
stubborn cases they tread upon the abdomen to expel the foetus. 
They believe in aiding nature rather than in letting nature take its 
own course, even in normal cases. For her services the midwife re- 
ceives a rupee and a bundle of dried bark for the preparation of a 
head-washing solution ("f yaw"). She uses the solution to prevent 
the eruption of some sort of itching skin-disease, after which she 
anoints herself with sandal wood. In case the delivery should be 
abnormal, the midwife would receive double wages. If the labors 
are unduly prolonged and she can not bring things to pass, she sends 
for a soothsayer or a medicine-man, who usually gives the suffering 
woman little else than a cup of charmed water ("hti th' mu") . 

When a woman dies before the child is delivered, it must be ex- 
tracted before the funeral ceremonies are performed. In case this 
can not be conveniently done at the time, the operation is postponed 
until the body is carried to the place of burning or burial, the foetus 
being then removed through an incision in the abdomen. This 
operation is thought necessary, in order to prevent the reincama- 



tion of the spirit of the woman from having a deformity in the 

If the child survives its birth, the umbilical cord and the pla- 
centa are wrapped in a cloth or placed in a bamboo joint, and 
buried in the ground or hung up in a tree. If the latter disposition 
is made of them, a large tree of one of the hardiest varieties is 
selected for the purpose, in order that the babe may gain strength 

Soon after the child is bom offerings are presented to the spirit, 
and a string is tied around the child's wrist to keep its "k' la" from 
being enticed away. In some cases the cord is tied around the 
neck and loins as well as the wrist. These threads may be of scarlet 
to dazzle the eyes of the demons and prevent their seeing the "k' la" 
of the infant.^ In Toungoo it is also customary to provide new 
cooking pots, water buckets, mats, knives, and a new ladder to the 
house, to render it more difficult for the spirits to find the child. 
Among the Brecs the husband goes into seclusion for seven 
days, during which he must speak to no one. He alone cares 
for the mother and child. Nobody is permitted to enter the 
house. Among the Padaungs the period of the husband's retire- 
ment is a month, and during a month and a half the whole family 
must live on rice roasted in bamboo joints, boiled rice being tabu. 
Although the villagers may not speak to the couple, the women are 
expected to brew a special liquor for their use during this period.* 
It is usual in these tribes for father and child to perform in panto- 
mine the work that the child will be expected to do when it grows 
up. For example, the child's hand is put to a miniature hoe, with 
which the father strikes the ground. Dr. Mason speaks of this as 
taking place when the father returns from disposing of the pla- 
centa, but Dr. Bunker refers to it as coming later, when the father 
holds a feast for the child. ^ On the third day after the birth the 
father goes on a hunting expedition, the outcome of which is 
thought to indicate the relative success of the child's life. On the 
father's return from the hunt the child is bathed to remove all 
spiritual defilement from it, whereupon the father waves a splint 
of bamboo downwards over the infant's arm, as if fanning him, and 

1 Cf. Dr. Alonzo Bunker. Soo Tha, 21. 

' Cf. Notes on the Bwe Expedition, by Capt. Coynder (RanKOon, 1894) ; also Notes on the 
Bwe and Padaung Countries, by Lieat. E. W. Carrick (Rangoon, 1896). These are Government 

' Mason in Journal^ Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1866 ; Bunker, Soo Tha^ p. 21. 


says : "Fan away all illness, failure, stupidity, and wretchedness/' 
Then fanning upwards, he says : "Fan on all prosperity, health, and 
power." After this he ties a thread on the child's arm and gives 
it the name that he and the mother have chosen for it. 

Among the Sgaw Karen I find that no special naming customs 
exist. However, according to our Western ideas, a curious selection 
of names prevails. One little girl was called Miss Thunder because, 
as was explained to me by her father, she was bom at the time of 
a thundred storm. The name of a personal peculiarity, a color, an 
ancestor (especially of one who was prosperous or powerful), a 
flower, an animal, or a month may serve as a personal name. I 
know of men who bear such names as Tiger, Eel, Pole Star, Glad- 
ness, Yellow, Teacher-come (the person with this last name was 
bom on the day a missionary first visited his village), besides many 
others equally odd. 

Nicknames are in vogue among Karen children, as they are 
among their fellows in the Western hemisphere. Nicknames 
of a special class are those given by parents to disguise their love 
of, and their satisfaction in, their offspring, in order to keep the 
demons away from the latter. Such names suggest parental con- 
tempt and lack of affection in the hope of deceiving the evil spirits 
into thinking that the parents can not be injured through the injury 
or loss of their children. This practice is illustrated by names like 
Stink-pot, Rotten-fish, Lame-dog, etc., which often stick to men 
through life.* 

Although boys are much more desired than girls, the latter 
are not mistreated or abandoned, as they are in China and other 
Oriental countries. The Karen possess a considerable degree of 
parental affection. Only in extreme danger, as formerly in the case 
of raids, would parents desert a female child. My observation is 
that Karen parents are too indulgent to their children and do not 
exercise as much control over them as would be good for them. 
Twins are not uncommon among these people, and triplets are not 
unknown. Twins are considered as having only one "k'la" between 
them. If one of the pair dies, the early death of the other is feared. 
Its wrist is, therefore, carefully tied with a cord, and every precau- 
tion is taken to prevent the escape of the "k'la." I presume that 

* Parents sometimes express their satisfaction over the male sex of a child by applying- 
to h'm a nickname indicative of the presence of the male srenitals. Such appellations, as terms 
of endearment, are reirularly recognized names and carry no opprebrium with them. 


triplets are also thought to share the "k'la" among them, but I am 
not sure as I have not made inquiry concerning such cases. 

It is common for Karen women in Lower Burma who are re- 
covering from child-birth, to observe the custom that prevails 
among the Burmese, namely, to have a fire on an improvised hearth 
or in a brasier set near the mat on which they lie. The fire is kept 
burning constantly for several days or a week after their confine- 
ment, to assist them in regaining their strength. The hotter their 
rooms are kept, the more quickly they are supposed to recover their 


The period of childhood is a short one among the Karen.*^ The 
baby early accompanies its mother on her journeys from place to 
place or to work, slung on her back by means of an old blanket or 
skirt. When she puts the infant down, she improvises a hammock 
out of this cloth by tying ropes to its comers and swinging it from 
the rafters of the house or the little hut in the field or from the 
branches of a tree. When the child grows a little older he plays 
about, while his mother is at work ; and when he goes with her he 
rides on her hip. (See p. 172.) She does not always give up carry- 
ing her first child on the arrival of the second. More than once I 
have seen a mother struggling along with a smaller child on her 
back and a larger one astride of her hip. 

The play of Karen children, more than that of the little folk of 
more advanced races, is imitative of the work of their elders. 
With little in the way of toys they gather a few bits of broken jars, 
which the girls utilize to cook rice in. The boys induce their father 
or some other male relative to make for them miniature bows and 
arrows, slings, and spears with which they assail dogs and 
crows, as well as small game along the edge of the jungle clearing. 
Streams afford places for them to play in the water or try for fish. 
With the sap of the banyan (bird-lime) smeared on a bamboo they 
may catch a crow for a pet. They tie together two bamboos, plan- 
tain stocks, or black bottles and lead them about as a yoke of oxen. 

' On account of the fact that the Karen do not keep accurate age records, and abo he- 
cauae of the shyness of the youth, it is difficult to obtain exact information as to when the 
children come to the aire of puberty. The ages usually griven me have been twelve for the srirls 
and a year or two later for the boys. Two cases of arrested development of girls have come 
under my notice. Both of these died when they were reported to have been about sixteen or 
seventeen, and both were reported never to have had any periods. One appeared to be not more 
than a rirl of nine or ten, while the other was larger but was emanciated and had defective eyes. 


and in various ways manage to get a good deal of fun out of the 
few years elapsing before they have to assume their share of the 
labor in the field and the village. 

Girls and young maidens are early trained to assist their 
mothers, especially in carrying up the water needed for domestic 

Child Ridino on Its Mutiiek'b Hif 
ter do«9 not like to foce ihe cumcra h 
; ii riding on her hip. which la the com 
children all Ihroueh the Orient. A li 

uses. Their imitative play is, therefore, largely devoted to doing 
some of the things they see their mothers do. Besides this play at 
house-keeping they have other pastimes. Thus, when they hear the 


repeated calls, "tauk-te, tauk-te, tauk-te," of the ubiquitous "gecko" 
or spotted lizard, which lives in hollow trees and sometimes in the 
houses, they count off "richman, poorman, beggarman, thief," etc., 
in the playful attempt to discover to which of these groups their 
uture husbands will belong, just as maidens in English-speaking 
countries count the petals of a daisy for the same purpose. They 
participate in running games, such as "tag," repeating rhymes in 
counting out the players and choosing the one who is to be "it." 
When the players are about to be counted out, they all squat on the 
ground near the one who is to say over the ditty, with their right 
fists extended in a circle. She strikes each fist as she utters a sylla- 
ble, and the one whose hand is struck at the final word becomes 
the new leader or victim in the game. 

There are many of these ditties in use by the children, some of 
which are composed of words which originally may have had mean- 
ings that are now lost, while some may be simply a string of reso- 
nant syllables like our own "eeny, meeny, miny, mo." One of these 
rhymes, which was written down for me in the Pegu Hills, runs as 
follows : 

"T' ku, hki ku, paw ta lu, saw maw ku ku li, lu t' re, maw ku ta 
aw yu." 

Others, however, take the form of a narrative, for example, the 
following which speaks of a Burmese Buddhist monk ("pongyi"), 
an object of terror to the Karen children. Hence, they say: 

"Hop kyi klo hko neu weh lo 
Leh aw hsa leu ta lu hko. 
Pla wa law teh, hseh ba a hko." 

Translated, this reads : 

"The 'pongyi' with close shaven head, miserably hungry, 
Went to eat his food on the ridge. 
The unpoisoned arrow falls and pierces his head." 

The children have other little songs which they use in play as, 
for instance, when in the villages on the plains they run on the logs 
laid from house to house to serve as walks during the heavy rains. 
One of their verses is : 

"Paw paw to me law ten to di do." 

Another version of this is : 

Taw paw pgha me law teh pgha di do." 



The translation of the former is : 

"Walk, walk the bridge. If it falls the bigger it is," meaning 
the bigger the bridge, the greater the fall. The rendering of the 
latter is : 

"Walk, walk, the bigger the man, the greater the fall." 

When playing with the chickens, children sometimes catch one 
of them and pretend to rock it to sleep, droning the while : 

"Hsaw hpo, mi, mi. 
N' mo n' pa leh hsu Yo. 
Heh ke so ne na p' theh tha wa ko lo. 
Aw gha lo gha lo. 
Me aw, hsaw hpo." 

The translation of this runs, 

"Sleep, sleep, little chick, 
Your mother and father have gone to Shanland. 
They will come back, bringing you a supply of 

white betel-nuts. 
You can eat them one by one. 
Sleep, little chick." 


Both boys and girls play with the seeds of the giant creeper 
("maw keh") . These seeds, which are often two inches in diameter, 
look much like flattened horse-chestnuts or buckeyes. They come 
from the enormous pods, a yard or more in length, of the vine, 
Estada pusoetha, which grows a hundred yards or over along the 
tops of the forest trees.® The games in which these seeds are used 
are played in the dry season. An even number of players is re- 
quired, divided into two equal groups or "sides." Each side must 
have the same number of seeds, which are made to stand on their 
edges by being set in grooves in the hard earth. The rows thus 
formed are from eight to ten feet apart, according to the age of 
the children playing. One player begins by spinning a "shooter** 
at the opposite row, aiming to knock down one or more of the nuts 
in it. Whether he succeeds or not, his opponent takes his turn, and 
the players thus shoot alternately back and forth, until one row or 
the other is entirely knocked over. The winning side is, of course, 
the one that first demolishes the other's row. 

In another game played with these seeds the two sides are again 
equal in the number of players. However, only those on one side 

' Burmese children also play with these seeds. 


set up their seeds, while each of those on the other has one shooter, 
which he spins in turn at the row. If he hits one or more of the nuts, 
he wins them. When he knocks down all the seeds of his immediate 
opponent, he changes places with him. If he does not succeed in 
knocking all of them over, using as shooters all of the seeds he may 
have won, he changes places and sets up the seeds that he had at 
the beginning of the game. Sometimes these games are played by 
the children while squatting on the ground, but often the boy who 
is shooting will snap his seeds while sitting astride the back of an- 
other boy, after the manner of playing "ride the pony," which is 
sometimes indulged in by European boys. 

Karen youths are accustomed to try their strength in boxing, 
though it is more properly wrestling. Especially in the Moulmein 
district is this developed as an art and the Karens there are reputed 
to be the best wrestlers in the country, so much so that even the 
Burmans concede their superiority. The contest is a sort of catch- 
as-catch-can affair, in which the object is not to throw the opponent 
but to scratch him so as to draw blood. The first drop of blood 
showing on a contestant means that he has lost the match. There 
seems to be few rules, for hands and feet are used indiscriminately. 
This art appears to have been practiced for a long time, for John 
Crawfurd in his Journal, in 1827, says that "a Karyen peasant was 
granted a village in perpetuity by the King [of Burma] on account 
of his peculiar skill in boxing. He was to teach the youth of this 
village his noble art." ^ This peasant seems to have come from 

"^ John Crawfurd, Journal of an Embaaaey from the Governor General of India to the 
Court of Ava, VoL II, 164. 


In the early days it appears that a young man did not marry un- 
til he was twenty-five or thirty years of age. His parents, deciding 
that it was about time for him to have a wife, either arranged with 
the parents of some maiden or, as was more often the case, con- 
fided in some friendly elder and entrusted the matter to him. If 
they had a preference, they made it known; but not infrequently 
the mediator was permitted to select whomsoever he might think 
best. It made no difference whether the young persons had ever 
met or not. When the subject was broached to them, they usually 
consented; but if they refused, as they seem to have done some- 
times, the proposed arrangement was dropped. The mediator in 
such an affair was known as the "t* lo pa." 

Up to a generation or two ago marriage between a Karen 
and a member of another race was altogether tabu. This explains 
why the Karen have maintained their traditions and their social 
solidarity to so remarkable a degree. Moreover, it was an almost 
invariable rule among the Karen that the young woman should 
belong to the same tribe as the youth. Even to this day one who 
marries into another tribe is looked at a little askance and is spoken 
of as having married outside ("pgha htaw leu hko"). It was not 
uncommon for relatives, usually second or third cousins, to wed. 
First cousins very rarely married. In Shewegyin if a girl was a 
relative of the man, she must belong to his generation, that is, they 
must be first, second, or third cousins, as the case might be. She 
might be an inhabitant of the same village as her spouse or of 
another. While it was more common for the parents of the young 
man to begin the negotiations for a wedding, it was not a rare 
occurrence for the parents of a girl of marriageable age to begin 

Child betrothals were not uncommon in the early days. Two 
families, who were on very intimate terms and desirous of prolong- 
ing their intimacy indefinitely, would arrange to have their children 
marry. Even young couples, who as yet had no children, would 
agree that, if favored by fortune, a marriage should take place be- 



tween their hoped-for offspring, although such an agreement might 
be made at any time during the growth of the children. Such a 
pact was considered firmly binding on those concerned. The chil- 
dren might or might not be told of the arrangement. Later on, at 
any rate, the youth would learn of it ; and it was expected, when the 
proper time came, that he would seek out his betrothed, even if she 
was then living in a distant village. Thra Than Bya tells of a 
couple who were thus affianced while living on the banks of the Irra- 
waddy River. During hard times the girl's parents removed from 
one place to another, until at length they settled near Moulmein, 
When the youth had reached man's estate, his father told him of 
his engagement and sent him to seek his betrothed. Knowing only 
her name and that of her father, he traced them from village to 
village until, arriving at the place where they then dwelt, the chief 
confirmed the fact and consented to the young man's entering into 
a rhyming contest with the maiden, when she should arrive at the 
feast that was being held there. Retiring into the jungle, the youth 
got himself up in disheveled array, returned, and addressed the 
damsel in poetic language, explaining briefly his mission. She re- 
pelled his attentions ; but he persisted, saying that she belonged to 
him by right of their childhood betrothal. Thereupon she besought 
her parents to save her from such an undesirable husband. They 
imposed the condition that she should surpass him in the rhyming 
contest. Failing in the attempt, she humbled herself and invited 
him to her house, where her parents proceeded to celebrate her 
wedding with a great f east.^ 

Feasts, especially funeral-feasts, were the occasions at which 
youths and maidens met. They used to go to such gatherings in 
companies, each with its leader who was skilled in reciting or ex- 
temporizing simple verses. Being thus thrown together, couples 
often became engaged, pledging themselves in verses like the 
following : 

Youth : "I promise you, you promise me. 

We have promised each other." 

Maiden : "After you have promised me and do not come. 

Cotton will grow on your grave. 
If you agree and do not come, 
Paddy will grow over your tomb." 

^ In the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1866, Dr. Mason mentions similar cus* 
toms as existinflr among the Karen of Toungoo. 


Youth : "We are pledging each other before the dead. 

We shall not be worthy of offspring.' 


If later during the same festival either one of the pair wished 
to break the betrothal, they addressed each other in verse, saying : 

"We promise each other in rhyme. 
Now let us speak verse again. 
May evil not come upon us, 
Or upon our descendants." 

Such verses are called "hta thi kwaw." Unless an engagement 
thus made was broken off the same night, the young man was un- 
der obligation to send a mediator to arrange for the wedding within 
a short time. If he failed to keep his pledge, his strength to resist 
an evil charm ("so"), would lapse, and he would go, it was thought, 
into a decline. 

Many of these practices still obtain among the Karen in the 
outlying hill-country; and in choosing a bride no step would be 
taken without divination by the customary method of inspecting 
the chicken bones, except in the case of the betrothals effected by 
the young people themselves at the funeral-feasts. It sometimes 
happens that a young man, seeing a maiden who attracts him, men- 
tions the circumstance to his parents, who approve his choice and 
send a mediator to her parents with an offer of marriage. As the 
services of a confidant are required sooner or later in nearly all 
cases, the omens are consulted and must prove favorable before he 
proceeds on his mission.* If on his way he should chance on any- 
thing that is inauspicious, such as the gliding of a snake across his 
path, the barking of a deer, or the report of a death, he will return 
home. Otherwise, he continues his journey to the house of the 
young woman's parents. The conversation that takes place there 
is carried on in verse characterized by figures of speech which sug- 
gest, but do not state explicitly, the purpose for which the mediator 
came. On entering the house, he sighs, perhaps, and remarks that 
he is in a trying position. The parents inquire what the matter is, 
and he answers with a couplet : 

"Give me a white pullet. 
And I shall feel better." 

2 See Chapter XXVII, pp. 280, flf. 


The parents apprehend that he is asking for their daughter. 
If not ready to give her in marriage, they may answer: 
"This white pullet we have but raised ; 
Never once has she cackled." 

The hint is sufficient, and the mediator promptly makes his 
adieu in plainer speech : 

"You have not received me. Do not revile me. 
The youth's parents will keep their son. 


You did not consent, but you spoke kindly. 
As for me, I am not discouraged." 

In case, however, the parents are favorably inclined, but are 
in doubt as to who the young man may be, knowing that their 
caller has a son of his own, they ask him : 

"Do you come on your own legs, 
Or on those of another?" 
He replies : 

"On the legs of another." 

Or they may be uncertain as to whether he intends his offer of 
marriage for their maiden daughter or the older one, an eligible 
young widow. So they ask him : 

"Are you crossing a flat bridge or a round one ?" 

The expression "flat bridge" refers to the young widow, the 
other to the maiden. A "round bridge" is a log, for in the jungle 
a bridge is commonly nothing more than a log. A flat bridge is 
one made of planks. The significance of the two expressions as 
applied by the parents is obscure to me, but is subject to several 
interpretations. If there should be two unmarried daughters in the 
family, both eligible, the parents would inquire : 

"Have you come for a basket of rice 
Or only for a mortarf ul ?" 

The basket, being the larger receptacle refers to the older and, pre- 
sumably, larger maiden.^ 

During his first call the mediator does not expect to progress 
far in his negotiations. If he has been favorably received, the fam- 
ily may kill a chicken and invite him to eat with them. He departs 
without knowing what the outcome will be, and the parents find an 
early opportunity to get the consent of their unmarried daughter 
to become a married woman ("mii pgha"). 

On his second visit a few days later the intermediary may find 
the father sitting at the front of the house and probably overhears 
him call out to the mother at one of her tasks within : "Here comes 
that male buffalo. Shall we tether him or let him go?" If she 
shouts back: "We might as well tether him," he knows that his 
proposal will be accepted. Even should she reply to the contrary, 
the caller would enter the house and pay his visit, but would make 

* The Karens often use the word "larger" in referring to an older child. 


no reference to the object of the call. This whole procedure illus- 
trates not only a Karen, but also an Oriental, trait of character. The 
Oriental deals in indirect methods, rather than run the risk of say- 
ing something disagreeable. 

Realizing that his mission is not in vain, the intermediary en- 
ters the house of the prospective bride's parents in joyous mood, 
fairly shouting the Karen version of "tra-la-la," which is "traw-le, 
wa-le, ho-o-o." They sit down and discuss the matter. Then the 
parents kill a fowl or a pig, and the guest stays for dinner in token 
that the bargain is sealed. After the date for the wedding-feast 
has been set, the intermediary returns to the young man's family 
and reports his success. As a rule the time of the feast is fixed by 
the maiden's parents, but it is sometimes determined by the youth's 

The only month that is tabu for wedding-feasts is "La plti" 
(December). This is the month when the moon is most often 
eclipsed (swallowed by the dogs). To many the month seems as 
though it were killed and is, therefore, regarded as inauspicious for 
new life. Others say that it is the month when neither birds nor 
animals mate, and that it is unwise for men to undertake to start 
a new household. The favorite months for marriages are March 
and April in the dry season, because the harvest is past, the weather 
is good, and there is plenty to eat and drink. The date of the wed- 
ding must fall during the waxing of the moon, which augurs an 
increasing family. This important point being settled, the pro- 
spective bride busies herself less with the preparation of her own 
trousseau than with the weaving of a set of new garments for her 
future husband, including a white turban, a white blanket with 
a red stripe running through it lengthwise, and, in the olden days, a 
"hse plo" or single smock. The maiden's family prepare the rice, 
fish-paste, pork, and liquor for the feast. The prospective groom 
has only to make for himself a horn to be blown at the festivities. 
On the plains and in those places in the hills where each family has 
its separate house, a booth or 'Tc'la pyeh" is built close at hand for 
the wedding-feasts.* This structure must be so placed as to have 
its entrance towards the tail of the "p'yo" or great dragon of the 
Karens. Not long ago I saw such a booth, which was enclosed 
on three sides and had a small open entrance to the east. The 
south side was entirely open. Access to the structure was had 

* This booth is often called a "mandat." The name, "k'la pyeh," is from the Burmese. 
Perhaps the booth itself is of Burmese orisrin, but I do not know. 


through the east door and exit from the south side. The dragon 
was supposed at the time to be lying with its head to the west and 
its tail to the east. 

With the near approach of the wedding-day the friends of the 
groom gather at his village, blowing horns, beating on gongs and 
drums, striking cymbals, and chanting "htas." Early on the wed- 
ding-mom every one is astir. The rice is cooked and eaten by sun- 
rise and, to an accompaniment of all the noisy instruments and 
with shouting and singing, the party sets forth. In the olden days, 
when the precepts of the elders were, strictly observed, there was 
much drinking of liquor and boisterous sport on such occasions, but 
withal a certain decorum was not altogether lacking by reason of 
the halting of the procession from stage to stage and the reciting 
of appropriate verses. As the party is ready to leave the village 
they sing: 

"To-day is a good day. 

We shall see a maiden as fair as cotton-wool. 
This is indeed a good day. 

We shall behold one as fair as a cotton boll." 

On setting forth, they do not overlook the unmarried girls of 
the village : 

"Here you have not loved me. 

Listen to my wedding-horns blowing yonder. 
Remain here. You have not esteemed me. 
Watch us depart with our horns blowing." 

On the journey they sing: 

"The wedding is timed at the coming of the rats. 
Unless death intrudes, we shall prosper. 
The marriage takes place when the rodents are here. 
Unless death comes, we shall work and be happy." ^ 

As they approach the bride's village a party greets them : 

"The *the kaw' blossoms in the dark of the moon. 

The moon waxes and wanes. 
The *the kaw* blossoms in the full of the moon. 
The moon increases and declines." « 

The above stanza refers to the maidens, still unmarried, who 
are waiting from one moon to the next. The groom replies : 

<^ The years of full crops always brinK a plague of rats in the hills. Thus, the time of 
rats is a time of prosperity. 

* This verse, recited by the villaprers, refers to the girls who have not yet married and are 
still waiting from one moon to the next. 


"The mountains are great and lofty. 

My desire brought me, panting. 
Reeking with sweat on the towering hills, 

My passion brought me, leaping and bounding. 
I was wretched. I only trusted. 

Whether good or bad the omens, come I would." 

The whole company now enters the village, and its members are 
offered drink. (See page 185). Meanwhile, the young men shout: 

"You have expected a company. 

Can you feast such a company as we ? 
You invited a crowd. 

Can you spread a feast for all of us?" 

The hosts disclaim making any preparation for the company : 

"There is nothing to eat. 

Let us resort together to the betel-box. 
As yet we have nothing else. 

Let us partake from the bamboo betel-box." 

But the guests will not be satisfied with betel chewing only : 

"Boil for us. Brew our drink. 

Feed us the white progeny of the pot,'' 
The hand raises food and drink, 
And the heart is satisfied." 

The women now insist that with little or no paddy they can do 
nothing : 

"Have you not looked at the supply of paddy? 
We women can prepare neither rice nor liquor. 
Have you not seen the paddy? 

We can neither cook rice nor brew liquor." 

But the young men do not relax their demands : 

"Bring out your distilling pipe. 

That you have none, we do not believe. 
Come prod us with your distilling tube. 
That you lack one, we are not convinced." 

At length, the women consent to supply what they have : 

"We have nothing worth bringing to serve you, 
But will fetch it, as ordered, though we suffer." 

In some instances the intermediary acts as master of cere- 
monies for the young men, although they may choose another elder 
to serve as their leader. In Shwegyin, when the wedding party is 
about half-way to the village of the prospective bride, the elders 

■^ This refers to the white kernaJs of the cooked rice, which are often spoken of as the 
"children of the pot." 


halt the young men and instruct them in the proprieties of the ap- 
proaching occasion, reminding them that they are going to a strange 
village where they will be entertained as guests. The hosts will 
serve them with rice and spirits. The elders remind them that the 
rice liquor that will be provided has been twice boiled and would 
intoxicate a horse or an elephant. They, therefore, advise moder- 
ation, telling them also not to hear any evil that may be spoken of 
them, to remain seated though others stand, to continue reclining 
though others sit up, to answer mildly though others speak roughly, 
and not to strike back should others slap them in the face. The 
elders require the company to say definitely that they will remem- 
ber their advice, whereupon each one breaks a twig from a tree to 
be placed in a pile on the ground in token of the promise of all to 
conduct themselves properly and keep the peace. 

A few years ago I visited a village in the Pegu Yomas at the 
time of a wedding. In the room of the bride's family they were 
preparing quantities of rice and curries. However, no liquor was in 
evidence. The bride herself was busy carrying water almost to the 
moment that the horns sounded at the village gate. The new cloth- 
ing for the groom was resting upon the beam over the door. Now 
and again the horns and gongs could be heard in the distance. A 
party arriving from a village to the north waited outside the gate, 
in order to avoid the impropriety of preceding the groom's party, 
which was coming from across the valley, as the sounds reaching us 
from time to time from that direction informed us. As the groom's 
retinue ascended the hill, the waiting delegation hailed them with 
the din of their instruments, the other crowd giving vent in re- 
sponse with a volume of noise that showed them to be still unex- 
hausted by the ascending of the hill. Brief intervals of silence 
followed by intermittent shouts and blasts of the horns indicated 
that the groom and his party were being welcomed by the elders. 

As the procession again moved forward, we could catch 
glimpses of the red-bordered smocks or "hse plos" of the men. On 
their nearer approach we could see the elders in the lead, followed 
by the married women and after them the groom attended by his 
party of young men. They now advanced along the narrow paths 
by twos and threes with their arms around each other, jumping 
and frolicing as they came. The bright colors of their costumes 
were accentuated by the bright red bags slung over their shoulders 
and the long tassels hanging from these. The large silver earrings 
adorned the lobes of their ears, which were further decorated by 


w M tber are entcrini it 


bits of red and yellow wool or by beads. The women wore heavily 
beaded smocks above their richly colored skirts, numerous chains 
of silver and glass beads, and red and white turbans. Meanwhile, 
the horns were emitting alternate short and long tones of reedy 
timbre. When the guests began to gather at the foot of the ladder, 
a boy was there with a jar of water from which he sprinkled the 
feet of each one as he ascended into the house. Shouts of "traw 
le-o, traw le-o" mingled with the notes of the horns as the groom 
advanced to the doorway of his bride's parents. Here he was met 
by two young men, neither of whom had lost a parent (such is the 
requirement of the occasion) , who poured the contents of two bam- 
boo water joints over him, completely drenching him. They then 
assisted him to don the new garments provided for him by his be- 
trothed.^ The din produced by the merry-makers by no means 
ceased when they had entered the house. Indeed, it only seemed 
to increase, being punctuated now and then with a shout which 
served as a signal for the crowd to jump up and down on the plain 
bamboo floor, shaking the whole building until it seemed ready to 

Meanwhile, the bride had long since retired into obscurity in a 
rear room. Any glimpse of her called forth all the noise the crowd 
was capable of. In Karen weddings, as in most Oriental nuptials, 
the bride keeps herself in the background as much as possible. I 
once asked to see the bride at a wedding on the plains and was 
told that she was back in the darkest part of the room. I remember 
that I gazed intently, but was not able to discern her. 

The groom in his wedding-array occupied himself in cutting 
in two-yard lengths a long piece of white muslin and distributing 
these for turbans to the male relatives of the bride. On request 
the chief of the village permitted the young men to visit the differ- 
ent rooms of the village-house, for the purpose of merry-making 
under such restrictions as he saw fit to impose. After that they 
quieted down for the remainder of the day, spending most of their 
time in chewing betel, telling stories, and amusing themselves in 
other ways. Many of them went apart into a room to sleep, having 
had little rest the night before. 

When a wedding is about to take place in a village nearly all 
the young women of the place disappear, leaving the day before the 
event for a visit to another village or retiring into the jungle. The 

" Dr. Mason tells us that it was the custom for the bride to be conducted to the Rroom's 
house and to be there drenched with water : Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal^ 1866. 


bolder ones may remain, but spend their time under the houses or 
in the deeper shadows. 

After darkness has come on and the party has finished the 
evening meal, the young men make the round of the village, hunt- 
ing for any of the girls who have had the temerity to remain. Those 
who are caught are subjected to good-natured badgering and per- 
haps to pretended abduction. Shouting, the noise of the instru- 
ments, and the slaps on the floor and sides of the house with bam- 
boos split at one end into six or eight strips, accompany this hunt 
for the maidens. Such sport does not degenerate into ill-treatment 
of the girls, if they are caught, even though the men have indulged 
in liquor ; but the fun is certain to be kept up all night, and some- 
times the scant partitions between the living-rooms of the village 
families are removed, with the permission of the chief, to enable the 
visitors to circulate the more freely throughout the village-house. 

Among the Shwegin Karen a vestige of wife-purchase appears 
to have survived. I am told that as night comes on the intermediary 
and the visiting elders place a jacket and skirt on a winnowing-tray 
and carry them to the parents of the bride as "ta k'ner" or "things 
that will win." The local elders, who are present with the parents, 
decline to accept the garments as being of too little value. The 
intermediary retires to return with some added articles — a head- 
dress, bracelets, and beads. The parents and village elders are not 
yet satisfied, and the intermediary has to add a silver head-band, 
earrings, and a lump of silver to the things on his tray, before he is 
regarded as offering a sufficient price. A bottle of liquor is now 
brought out and drunk by way of sealing the bargain, and the vil- 
lage elders announce that "the price is paid." Among these same 
people it is customary for the elders, on the morning of the second 
day of the wedding-feasts, to send the bridegroom and his young 
men out on a hunt. The game taken must be brought back by the 
groom on his own shoulders and carried by him to the house of the 
bride. This hunt is his last with his fellows and his first foraging 
expedition for the household he is establishing. 

On the last evening of the feasts a ceremony used to be per- 
formed that is rarely seen nowadays. I have been informed that it 
was the main part of the marriage-feasts, signifying the uniting 
of husband and wife. Its name was "Hpo nya mo, hpo nya pa," and 
meant "Children tease mother; children tease father." For this 
ceremony the bride prepared a cock and a hen, which were boiled 
whole, and she also cooked a pot of rice. These were placed in the 


inner room of the house. Thither the groom was escorted to his 
bride in the evening by his attendants, who chanted : 

''Go, escort the husband to the maiden. 
The mother looks on with smiles. 
The wild buffalo shall enter.^ 
Tell the father to fasten the door. 
Lead the young man to her room. 
Let no one molest him. 
Take in the youth. 
Leave him undisturbed." 

After the groom had seated himself near his bride, the rice and 
fowls were set before them. Each in turn took sparingly of the 
food, while the company looked on until the bride raised a morsel to 
her lips, when they shouted "Hpo nya mo ! Hpo nya pa !" and began 
to scramble for the chickens, which they pulled to pieces and threw 
at the women. The latter returned the volley with shouts of "Hpo 
nya mo ! Hyo nya ma !" This "teasing" of the future parents and 
throwing scraps of chicken at one another is said to have betokened 
the mutual expression of good wishes for increasing families for 
all those participating in the ceremony. The groom was then es- 
corted back to the booth or the guest-room, where he spent the 
night with his friends. 

Returning from our digressions in the preceding three para- 
graphs, the villagers early on the second morning of the wedding 
ceremonies prepare a feast of rice and chicken curry for their 
guests. Not less than two young roosters or two pullets are used 
in the preparation of this final feast, every part of the fowls be- 
ing cooked, even the intestines, which have been carefully cleaned. 
Bits of stewed plantain stalks are included in the dish, inasmuch 
as the prolific nature of this plant is supposed to be communi- 
cated to those partaking of it, thus assuring the large families 
desired. A joint of bamboo full of liquor is also brought out. 
The bride and groom must then dip their fingers into the liquor 
and the food, while calling out "Pru-r-r k'la, heh ke" ("Pru-r-r k'la, 
come back"), two or three times. The elders now shout: "This 
day you twain, husband and wife, have become one spirit. 
May God take care of you. May the Just One watch over you. May 
the powerful Thi Hko Mu Xa (Lord of the demons) shield you. 
May you have strength to work and gain your livelihood. May you 
sleep in peace and eat the fruits of the land. May you have long life, 
ten children, and one hundred grandchildren." The elders next ad- 

* A nickname for the intermediary. 


dress the "k'la," as follows : "Pru-r-r k'la, return, return. Do not 
stay in the jungle. Behold your place here. Do not leave it. Go 
not away. Look at your own room. See your own place." A mor- 
sel of the rice, together with the heart and lungs of the fowls, is 
then placed upon the heads of the bridal pair, and the guests pro- 
ceed to eat the remainder of the feast, finishing it before sunrise. 

Thus far the intermediary has passed through the marriage 
celebration with the consideration on all hands belonging to one 
who has conducted successfully the negotiations between the parents 
of the groom and those of the bride. He has been the groom's per- 
sonal attendant, has carried his principal's few worldly goods to the 
bride's house for, as among the ancient Hebrews, the young man 
leaves his father and mother to become a member of his wife's 
family. But now the intermediary finds himself suddenly deprived 
of his position of respect and becomes the butt of the night's fun. 
The foot of a pig killed for the feast is tied about his neck with a 
rattan, and its head is set upon a post of the house for him to bark 
at for the sport of the guests.^® If he could lift the head down from 
the post, it became his possession. His success in accomplishing 
this was said to symbolize his skill in finding a suitable wife for his 
friend, which was likened to the scent of the old Karen hunting 
dogs ("htwi maw seh") in the chase. The guests now take their de- 
parture for their several villages, having spent two days, if not 
more as sometimes happens, at the celebration. No one whose feet 
were sprinkled on his arrival, is allowed to leave until the celebra- 
tion is over. 

After the departure of the guests, the intermediary remarks to 
the bride's parents : "I have brought you a son. Cherish him. If 
you have aught to say against him, speak it out now." On receiving 
a negative reply he continues : "I have given him into your hands. 
I have done my duty, and my task is finished." One of the village 
elders tells the intermediary that after seven days he will be free 
from blame in case anjrthing evil transpires concerning the groom. 
The bride's parents present him with a pair of fowls for his serv- 
ices, which he carries home and keeps, unless by reason of illness 
he must sacrifice them to recall his wandering "k'la." 

The groom lingers about the village during the day after the 
guests have gone and in the evening is escorted by some of the 
elders to the bride's room. Formerly in some localities it was cus- 

^^ In some places the pig's head was hung about the intermediary's neck, and he went 
about barking at one or another of the company, as the spirit moved. 


tomary to sprinkle the bridal floor with rice to give the pair a fruit- 
ful married life. Possibly the showering of rice on newly married 
couples in the West had originally a similar significance. How- 
ever, I have been told that in the olden times couples often refrained 
from living together for months or even a year or two after their 

Many tabus were formerly observed by parties going to a wed- 
ding. If they heard of a death, passed a funeral, or came into con- 
tact with anything connected with a burial, the intermediary at 
once halted his companions and directed them to recall their "k'las." 
If a snake crossed their path, he stopped them and addressed the 
reptile : "You follow your path, and we will follow ours. Our way is 
short and pleasant. Yours is long and evil." If they happened to 
hear the call of the red-headed woodpecker, which is considered a 
bird of ill-omen, he would cry out : "You may be sick and die. It is 
nothing to us. Let the white ginger bum you." If they came upon 
a dead wild animal, the intermediary reminded the company that 
death, having taken its victim, would not touch them. Chancing to 
meet another wedding party, the two groups exchanged the greet- 
ing : "May you be free from all evil, and may you have peace." If 
either company had liquor with them, they all drank together. 

Certain tabus made it necessary for the whole party to sit 
down where they were and wait until they believed the danger was 
past. They did this when they heard the call of the plover, the cry 
of the barking-deer, the "tauke te" of the lizard, or the scream of 
the woodpecker. When about to renew their journey after an in- 
terruption of this kind, they pretended to spit something out of their 
mouths, saying: "Let all evil remain on you." A sneeze would 
halt the entire retinue until the leader was assured that no more 
sneezes were to follow. 

According to modem usage the groom is supposed to remain in 
his wife's house three, seven, or any other number of days required 
by her parents. After the specified interval has elapsed, he is free 
to go about as he pleases ; but he seldom returns to his own village, 
except for a brief visit. The general custom is for the husband to 
settle down with his parents-in-law, a practice that looks much 
like a survival from the matriarchal stage of the Karen's past. 

Should the marriage prove unsatisfactory to the wife or her 
parents and they wish to sever the connection, they must purchase 
their release by paying the husband an ox or one hundred rupees. 



In case the young man is dissatisfied with the union he has formed, 
the price to be paid by him is much larger, namely, three hundred 
rupees, one change of clothing, bracelets, earrings, and other 
jewelry. Because the man and his parents have the initiative and 
exercise the right of choice in effecting a marriage, the justice of the 
above arrangement is obvious. 

I have been repeatedly assured that in the early days, when 
the Karen people lived unto themselves, moral lapses were uncom- 
mon among them, and that the lot of young persons found to be 
holding improper relations with each other was a hard one. Their 
sin was regarded not only as an offense against their household 
gods, the "Bgha," but also a crime against the community, inasmuch 
as it was supposed to cause sterility of the earth and, hence, loss of 
crops. The sinful ones were brought before the elders, who, hav- 
ing eaten two fowls that were cooked whole for them, required the 
couple to sacrifice a large animal, that is, a buffalo, an ox, a pig, or 
a goat. The blood of the slain creature was sprinkled on the ground 
"to ^cool it off" or, in other words, to remove the curse that rested 
upon it. The elders then resorted to extreme methods to shame 
the offenders, who were driven from the village, sometimes after 
having been stripped naked. As they were not allowed to 
mingle with the rest of the inhabitants perhaps for several years, 
they either went to some distant village to live, or built themselves 
a hut in the jungle.^^ 

^^ On the subject of adultery and its relation to divorce among: the Karen, see p. 148. 


When a Karen is ill, his sickness is thought to be due to some 
action of the malevolent spirits of the unseen world or to the wan- 
dering of his "k'la" (life principle or psyche) . His malady may be 
due to an accident, an attack of indigestion after eating too many 
green mangoes, or an infection of some sort ; but, according to his 
belief, some invisible spirit has been offended by a slight and is the 
real cause of his disorder.^ 

The seven-fold "k'la," which presides over the life of every 
person from the time of his birth, will, the Karen believes, deter- 
mine the time and manner of that person's death. Notwithstand- 
ing the fact that one or another of the many causes of death will 
sometime effect the dissolution of every member of the race, the 
Karen makes offerings to delay as long as possible the inevitable 
end. Most propitiatory feasts require the presence of every im- 
mediate member of the family, in order to render the feasts accept- 
able to the spirits. If the sick person seems to be sinking, his rela- 
tives will all remain and try to be at hand when he breathes his 

Karen funerals are by no means solemn occasions. On the con- 
trary, they afford the greatest opportunity for the people to enjoy 
themselves. I have heard it said that when a considerable time has 
elapsed since a death in a particular region, the young people long 
for someone to die, so that they may have a jolly time. The question 
has often been raised why the Karen, who are not without family 
affection, conduct themselves in what to Occidentals is a very un- 
seemly manner at the funerals of their dearly beloved ones. Possi- 
bly some light is thrown on this question by the story of the fabu- 
lous White Python. According to this story, after the python had 
been compelled to release "Naw Mu E," it took vengeance by killing 
men in great numbers by discharging its venom on their footprints. 
It took pleasure in hearing of the suffering and sorrow it was caus- 
ing the human race and, therefore, redoubled its efforts. The peo- 

^ See Chapter XXIII, PP. 280-246, and Chapter XXIV. pp. 240-264. 257. 



pie, fearing lest they should become extinct, sought to overcome 
the pjrthon by guile. They determined to try the plan of deceiving 
the serpent and its menials by ostentatious feasting and festivity 
when a person died through its malevolence, instead of mourning 
over the victim. This subterfuge proved to be successful, for the 
servants of the python reported to their master that the people were 
no longer succumbing to its poison, but were rejoicing over their 
newly won immunity. At this the enraged serpent discharged all 
of its venom and thereby lost the power it had formerly possessed 
of causing the death of human beings. 

This tale reveals the Karen's profound fear of the mysterious 
causes of death. He is unacquainted with the modem sciences of 
physiology, pathology, hygiene, etc. Some unknown power removes 
his parents or his children, and he strives to fortify himself against 
it. The White Python of the tale typifies the evil spirits, who are 
continually lying in wait for him and the members of his family. 
His object seems to be to counteract their baneful influence, even 
in the hour of its manifestation, by concealing his sorrow and in- 
dulging in ceremonial feasting and forced hilarity. Such appears 
to be the significance of the story of "Naw Mu E" and the fabulous 
White Python. 

The people have their own explanations of their mode of con- 
ducting funerals. One is that certain of their sports assist the 
spirit of the departed to avoid the pitfalls in his path as he journeys 
from this world to his proper place in the next. They are employ- 
ing the appropriate means "to make his way cool," as they express 
it. Being inhabitants of a tropical region, the word "cool" is the 
Karen's synonym for comfortable and pleasant. Another explana- 
tion given by the Karen for his method of conducting funerals is 
that he aims to cheer the hearts of those who are bereaved. Being 
without a solace to overcome the sting of death, the mourners 
are the more ready to fill their minds with such absorbing sights 
and sounds as will expel the sad remembrance of their loss. The 
reaction comes later, but the Karen's habit of living in the present 
has enabled him to reduce that to a minimum. 

When a person dies, the relatives, if not all present, are im- 
mediately called by sounding the big bronze drum or "klo a' ko" 
(the hot drum or drum of discomfort). The pounding of this drum 
communicates to everyone within hearing the news that a death has 
taken place, just as the tolling of a church bell in the early days of 
New England carried the tidings of death to the villagers. For a 


short time the relatives indulge in weeping, but soon begin to pre- 
pare the corpse for burial or cremation. 

On the plains the body is bathed, but not in the hills. East of 
Moulmein on the Siamese border the face is brushed over with an 
infusion of acacia pods and tumeric for the purpose, as the people 
assert, of washing it and giving the soul a good start. They then 
repeat the following words : "You have gone on before. We have 
been left behind. May it also be well with us." As a receptable for 
the body the Bwe and some of the other hill-tribes about Toungoo 
used to hollow out a log coffin, as do the Chinese. But by far the 
greater number of the Karen wrap the body in a mat. While pre- 
paring this mat they offer a brief prayer : 
"Let the shade of the dead depart. 

Let the corp&e of death and hades sleep on this mat. 

Approach not. Come not near." 

The two thumbs and the two great toes are tied together, but the 
string with which they are bound is immediately cut. After a 
blanket has been spread over the mat the body is placed on it and 
wrapped up in the two coverings, which are bound around at three 
places with red and white rope. These bands are connected by an- 
other rope running lengthwise of the body, which serves as the 
means of lifting and carrying the corpse. A bamboo water-joint 
and a betel-box ^ are placed upon the body, and the following words 
are spoken : "Chew your betel. Smoke your cigar. May your body 
eat, and may your 'k'la' eat as well." In Shwegyin those in attend- 
ance about the corpse address it, saying: "Do not take the path 
leading into the forest. Return to your resting-place and your pleas- 
ant home." Then they put the body in the guest-room and, having 
cooked rice and a duck curry, they place a portion of this food by 
it and say : "If your spirit and your *k'la' have not departed, may 
they come and eat." Meantime, the beak, wings, and legs of the 
duck are dried a little by the fire and laid by the corpse, the fol- 
lowing words expressing their purpose in so doing : 

"Let the beak become a canoe for him. 
Let the wings become his sail. 
And the legs, his paddles." 

Placing two bits of liver on the eyes of the corpse, they utter the 
wish : "May these become bright eyes for you, to see clearly your 
way as you go back." 

' For an account of betel chewing see pp. 72, 78. 



In some sections of the country the village elders try to keep 
the children away from the dead, lest their "k'las" should be in- 
duced to follow its "k'la." In order to divert the attention of the 
latter from prevailing on the shade of some living person to follow 
it, the elders pretend to pick up fruit about the room where the 
body is lying and to put it into the skirts of their garments. 

In the Pegu Hills it is customary to prepare a bier for the body. 
This is a low bamboo frame ("thi hso law") with a bamboo frame- 
work above, over which a blanket or several garments are spread 
to form a canopy ("ta t' su"). By this means the spirit is sup- 
posed to be assured a cool and shady journey to its next abode. The 
body is usually kept only from one to three days, at the end of 
which time bits of the finger and toe-nails are pared off and a lock 
of the hair is cut to be placed in a tiny mat and substituted for the 
corpse during the remaining days of the funeral rites, and the 
"mourners" march around them as they would around the corpse 

A ceremony, called "ta le me" or the lighting of the way, takes 
place in the evening. The Karen people seem to think of the realm of 
death as quite the reverse of this world. I have sometimes thought 
that they locate it beneath the earth, but am not sure whether they 
ascribe a location to it or not. Their conception of the conditions 
prevailing in the other sphere as opposed to those existing in this 
one, is shown by the following observance: Two young men take 
their places on opposite sides of the corpse, one holding a candle 
between his first and second fingers, as a cigar is held, the palm of 
the hand being downward. He passes the candle to his fellow, who 
passes it back, the recipient taking it between the third and fourth 
digits. The candle is then thrown down beneath the house, 
while the young men raise their hands and point to the sky, saying 
to the corpse : "The roots of your trees are there," and then to the 
ground with the words : "There are the tops of your trees." Point- 
ing in the direction of the source of the neighboring stream, they 
call it the mouth of the river and then pointing to its mouth, they 
speak of it as the source. 

After this the company file around the body, chanting a "hta" 
(poem) to the sun. In Siam it is the custom to march around to 
the left, making the circuit three times, after which the participants 
begin to recite the following version of this "hta," entitled "The 
Face of the Sun" : 


''The sun is dark; dark is the sun. 
The moon is dark; dark is the moon. 
The face of the sun is black. We point to the plantain. 
The tops of your trees are the roots. 
The mouths of your rivers have become their sources." 

"The face of the sun shines. 
The sun rises and reveals himself. 
The moon ascends and displays herself. 
They sink into the gre&t river. 
Setting among the fragrant flowers, 
Where the perfumes are most satisfying." 

No regular order of funeral ceremonies appears to be ob- 
ser\Td throughout the Karen country. Not only do different tribes 
have their particular customs, but also various groups within the 
same tribe differ more or less from one another. This wide va- 
riety of rites renders it almost impossible to ascertain what the 
original customs were. On the plains, where the Karen have come 
into contact with the Burmese, the old customs have largely disap- 
peared and are known only through the reports of old men. Even in 
the hill-country some of the ancient customs have been discontinued, 
so that one rarely sees a funeral nowadays at which all of the rites 
mentioned in this chapter are observed.' 

Nevertheless, it seems to have been a universal custom for the 
elders to take a leading part in the ceremonies by chanting a poem 
in which they declare that the spirit of the deceased has left this 
sphere for another and a better life in the spirit-world. A poem 
of this import is still recited in Siam and is probably not widely 
different from that which was familiar to the various tribes in the 
early days. It runs as follows : 


On the other side of the great river * 

The apes call loudly to each other and cry. 

They cry, 'tis said, because death comes so readily: 

Men vanish like water rolling from the caladium leaf;' 

They enter life suddenly and die quickly. 

One by one they tread in the steps of God's sons. 

They return whence they came as attendants of Grod; 

They spread his mat and roll his cigars.^ 

' At a funeral which the writer attended in the Pegu Hilb in 1917 only a few of the 
elders, and a young man who had come from Papun. could repeat the "htaa" which were used in 
the ceremonies. The young folks of the village itself could only be persuaded to take part after 
much talking, and then they appeared to be ashamed and shy. Only one night did they attempt 
to recite the poems, and the next morning the corpse was taken out through the side of the house 
and carried to the burial place where, they told me, no further rites were observed. 

* This fabulous great river is supposed to separate this world from the next. 

B A drop of water rolls from the axil of a caladium leaf like a drop of mercury. 


"The Lord of death, does his work swiftly. 
The servants of Death are prompt in their task. 
By the light of dawn they sharpen their spears. 
In the ev'ning glow they whet them again. 
They ponder where they will go to fight. 
They choose whom they will overcome. 
They steal through the vales and over the hills. 
They vanquish the sons and daughters of men. 
Into the huts of the poor, among the fowls, 
Into the great houses and into the guest-rooms, 
Where the oblations of brass and silver are seen 
And the fowls are killed and offered, they come." 

"Gro, kill a black chicken. 
Prepare it and offer it. 
Go forth, and offer it on the main road. 
At the intersection of the main roads. 
If the curious person should eat it, 
We would say that our grief has gone to him; 
That he has carried it a great distance. 
Let not evil's combings fall on us. 
Let them fall 'midst the trees of the woods 
Or elsewhere: the country is spacious." 

Other verses are chanted, among them the following taken 
from what is known as a great poem ("hta mo pgha") : 

"In the beginning when men first worked. 
They toiled as their discernment led them. 
From the beginning they worked for you; 
They worked; they talked; they chanted." 

A small poem (''hta hpo") supplies its lessons also 

"No more will you wear the beads. 
But be draped in tendrils of the banyan. 
Instead of the jacket and loin-cloth 
You will wear the leaves of the banyan. 
Go hence, eat the sour fruit of hades 
And honey from the comb of the bees." 

"Go, eat the salt fruit down in hades. 
Go before and eat of the honey. 
The dead, who face toward the ridge-pole, 
Leave all of their children behind them. 
They die and must look up the ladder. 
But leave all their labor behind them. 
Their death makes life not easy for us: 
They send us on many an errand; 
Our feet and our backs become weary." 



Many are the poems that are chanted during the nights of the 
funeral-feasts. The Karen divide them into various groups, such 
as the great poems ("hta do"), which are their nearest approach 
to our classical epics; the small poems C'hta hpo"), which are 
less dignified than the former; the poems of hades ("hta plii"), 
in which the words and sentiments are often in keeping with the 
character of the deceased, praising the respected and condemning 
the dishonored; poems showing Death the way* back to his abode 
("hta thwe plti") ; poems for the king of hades, in which his name, 
"Hkii Hte," is mentioned in every line, while in one ("hta yeh 
law plii") of this group the Karen name for hades is as often re- 
peated ; extempore verses ("hta na do") sung in rhyming contests 
on the last night of the funeral-feasts between the most skillful 
improvisers of the companies from the different villages repre- 
sented, and, finally, the love poems, in which the story of the ro- 
mance between the lover and the maiden is chanted by the leaders 
of the groups of the young people. 

The funeral observances held during the daytime are as bois- 
terous as those held at night. Several of the former consist of 
jumping the pestles ("ta se kle"). The pestles are the stout sticks 
with which the hulls are pounded from the rice in wooden mortars, 
but bamboos are frequently substituted for these in the jumping 
games about to be described. Four of the pestles or bamboos are 
placed on the ground in the manner indicated by the accompanying 

illustration, and four young men take 
their stations on the sides of the fig- 
ure thus formed, grasping the ends 
of the sticks. Three times in succes- 
sion they knock the pestles on the 
ground and the fourth time they 
knock them together. While this is 
going on a fifth young man jumps in 
between the projecting ends of the 
parallel sticks, first on one side, then 
on another, and the fourth time into 
the center of the square and out 
again, if possible, before they are 
clashed together. The game requires 
quickness of action and produces great merriment, especially when 
the jumper's feet are caught. Should they be caught, his failure to 





clear the sticks is regarded as a bad omen, showing that the spirit 
of the dead man has encountered some obstacle on itsi journey to 
its next abode. It is, therefore, incumbent on the jumper to try 
the center leap over again until he gets through safely.' 

The next game in order is that of "pounding the pestles" ("ta 
to kli"). In this game three young men, each provided with a 
pestle or bamboo stick, take their places at equal intervals about 
a central spot on the ground, which forms the target at which they 
strike in turn. A fourth youth must jump first from one side and 

then another to the center and out again 
before each stroke falls, and the fourth 
time also when the wielders of the sticks 
strike together. In this game the jumper 
runs considerable risk of getting hit on 
the feet, unless he is very spry in his 

A third game with the pestles is 
called "stretching the neck" ("ta leh 
kah"). The four pestles required in this 
game are held in "criss-cross" fashion as 
in the first jumping game, but as high as 
one's shoulders. A young man stands beneath them, and another 
stands at one comer waving a naked sword above them. The four 
holding the ends of the pestles strike them together at brief in- 
tervals, while the youth beneath them must thrust his head up be- 
tween the ends of the sticks and withdraw it again before they 
close about his neck, or the swinging sword touches him. Having 
done this on three sides in succession, the fourth time he must at- 
tempt it through the square in the middle. If he is successful in 
making the circuit three times without getting "his neck stretched," 
the assembled company are entitled to feel satisfied that it is well 
with the soul of the departed. 

"Climbing the fruit tree" ("htaw the tha") is a very different 
kind of game from those described above, involving no physical 
risk inasmuch as it is a performance in pretending. A conven- 
tionalized picture of a tree with a knot part-way up the trunk, two 

^ Dr. Nieuwenhuis tells of a rice-pounder dance in Borneo performed by the women, who 
skip into the center and out affain between the simultaneoiis strokes of the rice pestles. This 
dance is not unlike the funeral game described above. He also shows a picture of wrestling in 
Borneo, a sport evidently conducted like wrestling amontr the Karen. See plate IS, p. 137 of 
Dr. Nieuwenhuis's Quer dureh Borneo (Leyden. 1907). 


pairs of side branches and a central branch, each terminating in 
two twigs baring a fruit and leaves, is drawn on the inside of a 
winnowing-tray. (See page 203.) Betel-nuts or small coins are laid 
on the sketch to represent the fruit. The man designated to "climb 
the tree" must receive his instructions from a woman sitting oppo- 
site. He begins by asking her : "In climbing the tree, how shall I go 
up?" To which she replies: "Go up to the big knot." Question and 
answer follow until he has passed his hand from point to point 
to the tip of a twig, secured the fruit there, and brought it to earth. 
This is repeated over and over again, in a way that would prove 
insufferably tedious to a Westerner, until the last fruit has been 
gathered. The assembled Karens seem never to tire of this game 
and regard it as a kind of offering to the departed friend. 

A ceremony ("ta w maw") participated in by both the young 
men and maidens is that of blowing bamboo tubes, rattling bangles, 
and parading or prancing, rather than dancing, around the corpse. 
In Shwegyin this ceremony is performed at night. In other places 
it used to be performed in the dajrtime at the place of burial, but 
has largely disappeared in recent times. The young men cut for 
themselves pieces of small bamboo with the joint in the middle, 
leaving the ends open, and, provided with these, take their places 
around the corpse alternating with the maidens, who wear bangles 
of little round bells or rattling seeds on their wrists. The partic- 
ipants, now facing towards the body and now away from it, 
parade around it, keeping step to the mingled but pulsating tones 
of the whistles or open tubes blown by the men and the rattle of 
the bangles on the swinging arms of the girls. At the end of this 
noisy parade the men tear their bamboos open with their teeth and 
throw them down with a loud shout, in which the girls join while 
shaking their arms vigorously. The spirit of the dead, when it 
hears this shout, knows that its welfare has not been forgotten by 
the friends remaining behind and believes that it will be able to 
avoid all demons along its path. The friends expect this ceremony 
to speed the departed on his journey. 

If the deceased is a very old person who has left all of his chil- 
dren and grandchildren married and with homes of their own, a 
special observance is celebrated in his behalf. This is called the 
"taw kwe tah" or the "taw klaw taw." I am not able to interpret 
these terms. Nowadays the ceremony is very rarely observed, and 
in the earlier times it seems to have been observed on the plains, but 



not at all in the Pegu Yomas. I have been told that on one occasion 
when this ceremony was to be performed at Letpadan, those con- 
cerned had to get permission from the township officer there and 

A Sketch or a Tree Used in the Funeral Games 

that they spoke of it as "collecting taxes for the soul." A company 
of young men disguise themselves, several of them in women's cos- 
tumes and carrying fish-nets, one as a blind man, and another as a 
lame one. They circulate among the neighboring villages with much 
shouting and laughter, calling on the inhabitants to contribute sun- 


dry supplies. The members of the party who are impersonating 
women, go under the houses and pretend to catch fish in their nets. 
By such methods they manage to gather all they can carry of fruit, 
vegetables, and other kinds of food, which they consume on their 
return to the place where the funeral is being held. This ceremony 
is performed more frequently when the bones of the deceased are 
exhumed than at the time of his death. 

After the ordinary daylight observances and the chanting of 
the poems in the evenings have been completed, the body is re- 
moved through an opening made for the purpose in the side of the 
hou«e and is carried to the place where it is to be burned or buried. 
In the olden days it was usual to bum the body, but latterly burial 
is the common practice. The children used to be confined or tied 
up at home during the removal of the corpse. This was to prevent 
their being scared by the gruesome sight, thus causing their shades 
or "k'las" to withdraw from their bodies and make them sick, or 
to keep their "k'las" from being enticed to follow that of the dead 
person with the same result. 

In Siam three beds of leaves and twigs are made along the 
path to the place of burning, the bearers stopping at these piles as 
though to put down their burden and rest, but allowing it barely to 
touch the bed when they raise it again and go on. 

In those cases in which burning is resorted to, the body is 
placed upon a pile of fagots three or four feet high and more wood 
is piled on top. Dry bamboo torches are applied at two or more 
places and, after the fire is blazing, the body is pierced with long 
sharpened bamboos to allow the juices to exude and so hasten the 
process of incineration. Before the body has been wholly consumed, 
charred pieces of the bones and particularly of the skull are raked 
out, held near the fire, and addressed with the words : "If you are 
hot, sit by the fire." After this water is poured over them and they 
are told, if cold, to bathe and drink water. These injunctions to 
the bones again illustrate the curious conception on the part of the 
Karen that the conditions prevailing in the next world are just the 
reverse of those existing in the present one. 

If the full funeral rites have been performed, the bones are 
ready to be deposited in the family burial-ground. If, however, the 
cremation has taken place before the performance of the full cere- 
monies, the bones are usually placed in a basket or wrapped in a 
cloth and taken home to be used again when the full rites are cele- 
brated. This carrying home of the relics and celebrating a funeral 


later is called "ta hu taw pgha a' hki." It is done both on the plains 
and in the hills. If the person dies in the rainy or the harvest sea- 
son, the practice is to dispose of the body quickly and hold the 
burial rites, namely, the games and recitation of the poems or 
"htas" at a more convenient time. 

On their way back from the burning-place the people stop at 
intervals, look back, wave their hands, and call out: "Pru-r-r k'la, 
come back, come back." They are summoning their own "k'las" to 
keep them from remaining behind with that of the dead person. In 
order to prevent the "k'la" of the deceased from following after 
them, they set up branches of trees in the path, which is their 
method of warning friends not to take a certain path. In Siam the 
funeral party resort to the additional precaution of opening the 
trunk of a big rotten tree in the jungle the next morning and sum- 
moning the "k'la" of the deceased to abide in that. Having pro- 
vided an offering of rice and water for the nourishment of the 
spirit here, they address the tree as follows : 

"O Rotten Tree, you know hades and the land of the dead. 
Be kind enough to show the deceased the way thither." 

But few localities are left where the Karen still keep up their 
old burial-places. These localities are in the hills and on the eastern 
border of Burma. In these regions an elder of the bereaved family, 
who is familiar with the burial-place, takes the bones and valuables 
of the deceased, such as beads, ornaments, etc., to the spot and 
deposits them with the ashes of his ancestors. A man in the employ 
of a timber contractor told me of a chance visit made by him to 
one of these sacred burial-places. With a Karen driver he was in 
search of a working elephant that had strayed away. After cross- 
ing two or three mountain ridges and the intervening valleys, the 
Karen remarked that they were approaching his ancestral burial- 
spot and consented to lead his companion to it. They climbed to the 
top of the next ridge, where the ground was covered with huge 
boulders. Threading their way among these, they emerged into a 
grassy plot in the midst of which lay a boulder larger than the 
others, and, after clambering to the top of this rock, they found 
therein a deep hole in which the family relics of the elephant driver 
were deposited. His companion thrust the shaft of his spear near- 
ly its whole length into the hole, the mouth of which was not more 
than four of five inches in diameter, and, poking about, could hear 


the jingling of silver, probably bracelets, beads, rings, and other 
jewelry. It is said that hollow trees and the limestone caves that 
are so common in the hills of Burma and Siam, contain many such 
hidden treasures. In the Pegu Hills the people appear to bury 
the relics of their dead wherever fancy dictates and to pay no 
further attention to the spot. Indeed, as a whole the Karen raise 
no monuments over their dead. When the remains of a woman are 
buried, not only her trinkets and ornaments are buried with her, 
but also her pigs and fowls which, as her peculiar property, are 
killed and deposited with her relics. 

Both in the hills and on the plains it is the custom to dig up 
the bones of the dead who have been carried off by epidemics, as well 
as of those who have died at inconvenient times, and hold cere- 
monies over them. It is said that in Shwegyin December 
("La plii"), which is the month of eclipses and of the dead, is the 
time when these ceremonies are usually performed. On the plains 
the months of the hot season are those chosen for these rites. 

When the bones are brought back to serve as the center of the 
burial ceremonies, they are placed in a little basket and set within 
a small enclosure. In the Pegu Hills they are put under a small 
canopy, but on the plains the receptacle for them is made in the 
form of a miniature pagoda ("hko so law") or a little hut ("hko 
saw") . The hut is a model of a house with its ladder, water pots, 
etc. The basket containing the bones is put into the hut, and one 
end of a string is tied to the basket and the other let down into a 
water jar under the miniature house. This arrangement makes it 
possible for the "k'la" of the deceased to go down for a drink when- 
ever it is thirsty. Early in the morning one of the elders carries a 
firebrand out to the hut, which is usually situated outside of the 
village. There he lifts out a piece of the bone and heats it with the 
glowing brand, saying : "If you are hot, sit by the fire." Then he 
pours water over it and tells it to drink and bathe, if it is cold. This 
he does in turn with each fragment of the bone. Finally, he puts 
the firebrand under the hut, calls back his own "k'la," and returns 
home. On top of the hut an image of a parrot is left, in case the 
deceased is an unmarried person ; but for married persons two such 
images are set up. These birds are supposed to help carry the spirit 
of the deceaseed to its next abiding-place. As long as the bones are 
in the hut the friends take food to the "k'la" every day. 


If the deceased is unmarried, the friends sometimes chant 
poems deriding him for dying before he has left any offspring 
to perpetuate his stock on earth. When they are ready to carry the 
hut to the grave, they remove the image of the parrot ("t'le") and 
bury it at the fork of the roads with its head towards the jungle, 
probably so that it will fly in that direction and carry the "k'la" of 
the deceased into the woods. On their return the love poems ("na 
do") are chanted by the young men and maidens, and early next 
morning the hut with the little basket of bones inside is taken to 
the back of the usual burying-place and left there. The funeral 
party stops long enough to say: "We have brought you here with 
all your belongings. Remain here." On their way home they do 
not forget to call their "k'las" frequently, lest these should be 
tempted to stay behind. In the case of the burial of married per- 
sons the mourners cook eggs, rice, and curry and spread a feast 
near the hut. They request the spirit of the dead to come and eat 
and then to depart to the king of spirits, "Mu Hka," and not to re- 
turn. The hut and its contents are then removed to the burial-place 
and left there. The closing ceremony is one performed over the 
bones at noon of the last day of the rites, its object being to dis- 
cover whether the "k'la" of the departed has yet reached the land 
of delight whence it will not return, or whether it is still wander- 
ing around and, therefore, liable to entice away the "k'las" of its 
relatives and friends. This final ceremony is called "t'yaw lo ke 
a' k'la." A slender bamboo or stock of elephant grass is stuck in the 
ground obliquely near the foot of the hut, and from its top is sus- 
pended a newly spun cotton string on which is tied a piece of the 
charred bone of the dead person and below it a bit of cotton wool. 
Four or five more pieces of bone separated by bits of the wool are 
strung on the cord, the end of which is attached to a gold or yellow 
bracelet. Directly under the bracelet a cup containing a boiled duck 
egg and a lump of cooked rice is set. The relatives now sit down 
and chant a poem or "hta," in which their love for the deceased is 
expressed. Then each member of the family strikes the cup and 
bracelet a gentle blow and, calling the dead by name, asks his spirit 
to return. If nothing unusual happens, they know that it has ar- 
rived at its destination and will never come back again. If, how- 
ever, the string vibrates considerably or breaks, as may happen, 
when somebody taps the bracelet there is great lamentation for 
they are then convinced that the "k'la" is present and has descended 


the string. Hence, offerings of food must be continued to prevent 
the "k'la" from exercising its enticing power on that of some living 

The "k'las" of the children are thought to be especially suscep- 
tible to such influence, and among the Bwes extraordinary precau- 
tions are taken to protect the children. The Bwe grandmother, who 
is head of the "Bgha" feast, wraps a pair of fowls in a number oi 
garments, each of her grandchildren supplying one. She then 
calls back the spirits of the children to prevent them from be- 
ing attracted by the "Mu xa." After the necks of the fowls have 
been wrung their flesh is eaten by the family, while the "Mii xa" 
are supposed to feed upon the essence of the chickens. 

The Karen bury their children soon after death, and seem to 
take no further notice of their passing. When parents have had 
the misfortune to lose several of their offspring shortly after 
birth, they believe that the spirits from some vague region have 
sought mortal birth through their instrumentality, simply to gain 
the ornaments and trinkets that Karen are in the habit of giving 
to their children. Having secured these coveted possessions, the 
spirits return to their former abode with their undeserved rewards. 
The Karen call this fleeting existence "ta plu aw ka," which means 
"gaining something by entering life." Parents thus taken advan- 
tage of, as they feel, have recourse to a revolting method of terri- 
fying a spirit of this greedy type. After a child has died and been 
carried to the burial-place, the indignant father thrusts a spear 
or sword through and through the little body or slashes it with a 
"dah/' that is, a long knife, in the hope that the spirit, seeing how 
badly its temporary mortal tenement is being treated, may fear to 
come back again. 

Our study of funeral customs among the Karen shows that, in 
the case of adults at least, funerals are festal and feasting occa- 
sions. Much rice and pork curry are consumed and, in the olden 
time, liquor flowed freely. In earlier times when people of different 
villages met at a funeral, a spirit of rivalry was shown in the 
improvising and chanting of the poems and sometimes in other 
ways. I have in my possession an old bronze funeral drum, which 
was reputed to be the sweetest sounding drum in the hills at the 
head of Thonze Creek.^ On its rim "dah" cuts appear which are the 
lasting marks of a fight in which rival groups of villagers engaged 

" See Chapter XIII on Bronze Drums, pp. 121-128. 


long ago, because some of those present expressed a decided pref- 
erence for the musical tones of this drum over those of other drums 
belonging to members of neighboring villages. 

Although many who took part in some of the old funeral cele- 
brations were undoubtedly under the influence of liquor and in a 
corresponding state of hilarity, funerals do not seem to have 
become the occasion of feuds or even of drunken brawls. 
Young people came together on more intimate terms at funerals 
than was permitted at other times, and some of their poems would 
not bear reproduction in print. Probably at times their conduct 
also went beyond the bounds of propriety, but such lapses seem to 
have been rare and bitterly regretted. However, it is clear that 
Karen mourners succeeded in drowning their sorrow and believed 
that by means of their festivities they had sent the spirit of their 
dead rejoicing on its way to its future abode. 


The Three Conceptions 

Among the Karen we find traces of three distinct religious con- 
ceptions, which have left their impress upon the people. The prin- 
ciple underlying the most primitive religious ideas is that of an 
impersonal power or force residing both in men and things, but 
which is all-pervasive, invisible except as it betrays itself by its 
effect on certain things, and invincible in that it can only be over- 
come in a particular person or thing by a more powerful manifesta- 
tion of itself in some other object.^ The Karen designate this force 
"pgho." It is the equivalent of what the Melanesians know as 
"mana" and is defined in the Karen Thesaurus as a certain more or 
less unknown force believed to be all about and which can not be 
overcome.* It may reside in certain individuals who, by its aid, are 
enabled to accomplish unusual tasks. It can be imparted to objects 
which, by its power, become charms potent for good or ill. The 
deities are said to possess "pgho" and on that account to be able to 
do wonderful things. It is also spoken of by the people as revealing 
itself in the infinite attributes of "Y'wa," the eternal God, but this 
is, of course, an adaptation to Christian teachings. However, it is 
in the realm of the magic, rather than in that of religion, that this 
power is particularly exploited. Those who are able to perform 
magical deeds are called "pgha a pgho," that is, persons of "pgho." ^ 

The second religious conception attained by the Karen was the 
animistic. They entered upon this stage of religious belief when 
they began to assign personal attributes to the various powers 
about them, conceiving of every unknown force as a more or less 
distinct personality. Thus, they personified the vegetative force in 
the crops as the goddess "Hpi Bi Yaw ;" they conceived of the agency 
th^it brought the dry and rainy seasons (the monsoon in reality, of 
course,) as two different demons, each ruling in the upper air dur- 

^ This view was first brought to the attention of scholars by Bishop R. H. Codrington 
in his work. The Melanesians, pp. 227 fT. Compare also J. E. Carpenter, Comparative ReliffUm, 
pp. 80, f[. for a brief but full discussion of the subject. 

" The Karen Thesaurus, old ed., Vol. Ill, p. 489. 

* In speaking of the attributes of "Y'wa" the people say : "Y'wa a psrho a pkhaw." The 
use of the couplet gives a more finished form of speech. 



ing a period of six months to the exclusion of the other ; they as- 
signed a lord ("k' sa") to every mountain and river, and they in- 
vested every utensil and object about the house and the animals out- 
of-doors with separate ghosts ("k'las"). Some of these imaginary 
beings are beneficent, such as the "Mii xa" or celestial spirits that 
preside over births; but most of them are malevolent and have 
to be appeased by continual offerings, sacrifices, and tabus. To keep 
on good terms with these innumerable spirits consumes a large 
part of the time and thought of the Karen.* 

The third conception in the religious traditions of the people 
is embodied in the "Y'wa" legend, which tells of the placing of the 
first parents in the garden by "Y'wa," the Creator ; their temptation 
to eat of the forbidden fruit by a serpent or dragon, etc. This story 
so closely resembles that of the ancient Hebrews, as also certain 
western Asiatic traditions, that one finds it difficult not to believe 
that all these traditions somehow had a common origin. Were 
the "Y'wa" legend marked by distinctive features, we might 
regard it as one exhibiting only a general resemblance to other 
traditions extant in other parts of the world, but its parallelism with 
the account in Genesis precludes this view of the case.^ 

At any rate, the "Y' wa" legend has exercised a strong influ- 
ence upon the Karen people. To be sure, it did not supplant the 
ancient animism of the tribes any more than Buddhism has dis- 
placed spirit worship among the Burmese. Nevertheless, it was 
accompanied by the prophesy of the return of the white brother 
with the Lost Book, which inspired the Karen with the hope of a 
better future and furnished an admirable foundation on which 
Christian teachers could build in promoting the development of 
the Karen nation which, during the last hundred years — the period 
not only of Christian missions but also of the British conquest and 
administration of Burma — ^has been truly remarkable. 

The "Y'wa" Tradition 

The contrast between the animistic and the "Y'wa" conception 
of the creation of the world is illustrated in the lines of the follow- 
ing "hta" or poem : 

"When first the earth was made, 
Who worked and built it? 
When it was first formed, 
Who was the creator?" 

* See Chapter XXII on Supernatural and Mythical Beings, p. 228. 
"s See pp. 10-12. 


''When first the world was created. 
The edolius and the termite toiled together.* 
When the earth was first formed, 
These two helped each other and made it." 

The "Y'wa" conception appears in the last stanza, given below : 

"When first the earth was formed, 
It was God ('Y'wa') who formed it. 
When first the world was fashioned. 
It was God who fashioned it." 

In some of the omitted parts of the poem we find the thought 
expressed that the edolius and the termite were co-workers with 
God in creating the world. It should, perhaps, be explained that 
the termite is the white ant, which builds high mounds all over the 
country ; while the edolius paradiscus is a black bird, a little smaller 
than a crow, with two long tail quills having tufts of feathers at the 
ends. Why this bird should have been given a part in the work of 
creation does not appear. 

Characterization of "Y'wa" as the Eternal One is herewith given 
in two translations from an ancient poem, the first of these being 
by an unknown person of an earlier time and the other by Dr. 
Francis Mason. 

"God is eternal, He alone [existed] 
Before the world was made; His throne 
Interminable ages stood, 
And He, the everlasting God. 
Two worlds may pass, and yet He lives. 
Perfect in attributes divine, 
Age after age His glories shine." ^ 

The rendering by Dr. Mason is as follows : 

"God is unchangeable, external; 
He was in the beginning of the world. 
God is endless and eternal; 
He existed in the beginning of the world. 
God is truly unchangeable and eternal; 
He existed in ancient time, at the beginning of the world. 
The life of God is endless; 

A succession of worlds does not measure his existence. 
God is perfect in every meritorious attribute. 
And dies not in succession on succession of worlds." ' 

* Rev. T. Than Bya, D.D., Karen Ciistoms, Ceremonies, and Poetry, p. 61. The Kmren 
name for the edolius is "hto hklu." Dr. Mason speaks of it as the Mouhnein nishtinsale: 
Hurma, p. 219. 

"^ This version is printed in D. M. Smeaton's The Loyal Karena of Burma. 

* Mason, The Karen Apostle, ap., p. 97. 



Besides being called eternal, God is described as "all powerful" 
and as "having the knowledge of all things." He created man and 
"woman from a rib of man/' and he made the animals and placed 
them on the earth. 

The power mentioned in the old poems as opposed to "Y'wa" 
and as having brought evil into the world is "Naw k' plaw." In 
later poems the name given to him is "Mil kaw li," which is a term 
of reproach used on account of his often being supposed to assume 
the female form, in order to accomplish his deceptions on the human 

He is said to have been a servant of "Y'wa" at first, but to have 
been cast out of his lord's presence for offering him a gross insult. 
The other servants of "Y'wa" have ever since cherished the desire 
to destroy "Mil kaw li," but have never accomplished their purpose. 
Hence, he continues to roam about, deceiving mankind and spread- 
ing death among them, until he shall finally be put out of the way 
by "Y'wa" himself. He is the direct author of evil and of the curse 
that has fallen upon the earth which, before his contemptible con- 
duct, had produced rice with kernels as large as pumpkins. It was 
through his malicious instructions that the people learned to make 
sacrifices to the "Bgha" and other demons. 

The Karen legends and poems give the story of the fall of man 
in their own picturesque language, which has been translated into 
English by Dr. D. C. Gilmore, who has brought together the sev- 
eral versions extant in various parts of the country. For the most 
part I shall paraphrase and condense Dr. Gilmore's translation ; for 
the original narratives, whether in prose or verse, are full of repe- 
titions, variations in insignificant details, and other peculiarities 
incident to tales that have been handed down by word of mouth. 

The Lord "Y'wa," father of the human race, spoke to the first 
pair he had created : "My son and daughter both, your father will 
make an orchard for you, and in that orchard there will be seven 
kinds of trees bearing seven kinds of fruit. Of the seven kinds there 

* The derivation of the names of this being are interesting. "Naw" is the usual feminine 
prefix of the names of all females, and "k* plaw" signifies quickly, in reference to the sudden- 
ness with which his power to tempt one was exercised. The later name, which has now come 
into universal use both among non-Christian and Christian Karens as the designation of the 
Devil, is composed of "mii," meaning woman; "kaw," signifying the state of or pertaining to, 
and "li," denoting the female locus impudieus. This combination constitutes a term of the ut- 
most contempt and refers to the insult which Satan visited upon "Y'wa" when offerings were 
being brought to him. The Devil's offering was a flower on which he had micturated. His 
act was discovered and aroused the anger of the entire celestial company. 



irit-n ihn' ci'»b (he I 

n this cue Ihf boy I 

together ]oo«]y 


is one that is not good to eat. Do not partake of it. If you eat of 
it, you will fall ill ; you will grow old ; you will die. Do not eat it. 
Now, whatever else I have made, I will give it all to you. Behold it 
and eat it. Once in seven days I will come and see you. Obey me 
in whatever I have commanded you. Keep my words. Do not for- 
get me. Worship me every morning and evening." 

By-and-by the Devil, in the form of a great serpent, came and 
engaged them in conversation, asking them what they were doing 
and what they had to eat. They replied that their father had pro- 
vided them with more than sufficient food and escorted him to the 
orchard, where they pointed out the several varieties of the trees 
and told him the flavor of the fruit of six of the varieties. Con- 
cerning the taste of the seventh, they admitted their ignorance, 
inasmuch as they had been warned by their father not to eat 
of it. Thereupon, the Devil informed the pair that their father 
did not wish them well, that the fruit of the forbidden tree was the 
sweetest and richest of all and, moreover, would transform them 
into gods, enabling them to ascend to heaven, to fly, and to burrow 
under the ground at will. He declared that the Lord God was envi- 
ous of them, while he, the Devil, loved them and was telling them 
the whole truth as they might easily prove by partaking of the 
forbidden fruit. 

The man was not persuaded by the plausible words of Satan, 
maintained that they would comply with the orders of their father, 
and left the intruder. But his wife, "Naw I-u," listened to the 
Devil's seductive voice, was half-persuaded and sought assurance 
by inquiring whether she and her husband would really fly if they 
ate of this wonderful fruit. The Devil again insisted that he loved 
them dearly, and that he was trying to convince her of the truth. 
When she ate the fruit, the Devil laughed and told her to give 
some of it to her husband; otherwise, if she should die, she 
alone would perish, or if she should become like a goddess, she would 
be left without a companion. She did as directed and, after consid- 
erable persuasion, her husband also partook of the fruit, to the 
delight of Satan. 

On the day following the eating of the forbidden fruit the 
Lord "Y'wa" came to see the disobedient pair and laid his curse 
upon them, declaring that they would grow old, sicken, and die; 
that their offspring would pass away at all ages, and that some of 
their descendants would have no more than half a family, that is. 


six children. Not only was the curse of "Y'wa" visited upon them, 
but also upon their first child, as was manifest by its falling sick. 
As "Y'wa" had forsaken them they appealed to the Devil, who re- 
plied that they must obey him to the end and promised to instruct 
them in the customs of his father and mother. Accordingly, he 
caught and killed a pig and examined its gall-bladder, explaining: 
that if this organ were well rounded, the omen would be favorable ; 
but if thin and flabby, there would be little hope for the recovery 
of the child. In case the child regained his health, they were 
to make a demon feast. Inasmuch as the little one did get well, they 
celebrated the feast according to instructions. Not long after an- 
other child was taken sick and, although they consulted the pre- 
scribed omen, there was no improvement in its condition. They, 
therefore, appealed again to the serpent, who told the father to 
catch a fowl which was to be used in calling back the spirit of the 
sick one. "Mii kaw li" placed the fowl, together with a bundle of 
chaff, a bundle of rice, and a bundle of potsherds, in a net, which he 
carried into the jungle, followed by the parents. There he plucked 
the feathers from the fowl and laid them, together with the three 
bundles, in the middle of the path. He then prayed: "Spirit, 
Spirit. The spirit has gone to hades. The spirit has gone to hell. 
Release the spirit." Next he cooked the fowl and tried its bones, to 
see whether they were soft or not. But he would not commit him- 
self as to the favorableness or unfavorableness of the omen, telling 
the parents that they must watch and wait, and that meantime he 
would treat the case in every possible way. Nevertheless, the child 
died, and the Devil could give the bereaved ones no other consola- 
tion than that when the chicken bones were found in the future to 
be like those he had tested, they would know the omen to be un- 
favorable. He also taught them a charm to be used when there was 
sickness in the family, and, in connection with the charm, they were 
to wind seven threads.^° Having wrought all this mischief and 
failed to furnish any certain relief from it, the Devil departed; 
while the man and his wife took up the task of teaching their off- 
spring the ceremonies and charms in which he had instructed 

1" See p. 221. 

^^ The form of the tradition which is found among the Gaihko tribe is more explicit than 
the versions found elsewhere. The original ancestors of the human race are by them called 
*'Ai-ra-bai" or "E ra bai." and "Mo ra mu" or "Moren meu". (Among the Sgaws they are 
called, respectively, "Saw Tha nai" and "Naw E u"). From the first pair they count by name 
thirty generations to the time of "Pan dan man," when the people attempted to build a 


There can be no doubt but that the above legend of the fall of 
man " has been largely responsible for the readiness with which the 
Karen people have accepted Christianity. It led them to believe 
that they began their existence as a race under the care and protec- 
tion of "Y'wa," which their ancestors soon forfeited by their dis- 
obedience in following the deceptive advice of "Mu kaw li." They 
believe that their present practices originated from an evil source 
and should be abandoned ; but their veneration for their ancestors 
and the customs established by them, in addition to their fear of 
worse consequences should they depart from time-honored usage, 
makes it exceedingly difficult for them to give up the old ways. They 
acknowledge the goodness of "Y'wa" and their obligation to wor- 
ship him ; but they feel so hedged about by a multitude of demons 
who will bring calamities upon them and devour their souls that 
they placate these, while believing that "Y'wa" will not harm them 
even though they should not render homage unto him. 

They illustrate their predicament by the story of a family oc- 
cupying a hut near a field during the cultivating season. While the 
father and mother were absent at work, the children were terrified 
at home by a tiger that sprang from the bushes and made off with 
the sow. At nightfall the children told their parents what had hap- 
pened. Before going into the field next morning, the father built a 
high platform of bamboos on which he placed the children and the 
motherless pigs, telling the children not to climb down during the 
day lest the tiger should again appear. The beast returned as ex- 
pected and filled the air with its angry roaring, until the children 
threw down one of the pigs in the hope of quieting it. From time 
to time during the day its roaring was recompensed in the same 
manner, the children, meantime, watching the path with straining 
eyes for the return of their father and mother and listening in- 
tently for the sound of the bow-string which should tell them that 
an arrow was speeding on its way to put an end to the tiger. Thus 
"Y' wa" was apparently leaving the Karen people to their fate, while 
they were keeping on good terms with "Mii kaw li" by means of 

pagoda which should reach to heaven. When the pagoda was half built, God came down and 
confounded the speech of the people and they became scattered. The father of the Gaihko tribe 
was reputed to be "Than man rai," who came westward from the Red Karen country in which 
they had all previously dwelt, and with eight chiefs settled in the valley of the Sittang River. Dr. 
Francis Mason doubts the antiquity of this legend, for it certainly shows the marks of Hebrew 
influence. (Dr. Mason in Journal, Astatic Society of Bengal, 1868, VoL XXXVII, p. 163). 

^' The above paraphrase is based on the translation of the legends by Dr. Mason as 
printed in the Journal, Burma Reaearch Society, Vol. I, Pt. II, pp. 86, ft. 


oflFerings and ceremonies and were hoping for the return of the 
white brother with the Lost Book. 

Beliefs Concerning the Soul and the Life Principle 

The Karen distinguish between the "tha" or soul and the 
"k'la" or life principle (shade) of every human being. They think 
of the soul as the seat of their moral nature, endowed with con- 
science, that is, the power of apprehending right and wrong, and 
with a personality that persists after death. The soul is respon- 
sible and is judged for the acts in the flesh. The "k'la" is more 
intimately associated with one's physical existence. It is the 
force that keeps one alive and well. As it is being constantly 
solicited by demons and more or less by the "k'las" of dead rela- 
tives to leave the body, it needs the protection of charms, offerings, 
and medicines.^^ As the "k' la" comes from a previous existence to 
inhabit the body at the time of birth and departs into a new exist- 
ence at death, so also it leaves the body for brief periods and at 
frequent intervals, as during sleep. If it remains away longer 
than usual, its absence causes the sickness and even the death of 
the body. As the "k' la" may be away visiting friends or on other 
errands during the sleeping hours, it is not safe to waken a sleeper 
suddenly. His "k' la" may not have yet returned, in which case he 
could not long survive. One Karen told me that he had dreamed of 
seeing various persons in heaven and hell and naively remarked 
that his "k' la" must have journeyed to those abodes during his 
sleep. Another Karen, whose wife underwent a surgical operation 
at a hospital in the city, asked me whether the ether cone was not 
used to extract and hold her "k' la," in order to render her uncon- 
scious, the "k' la" being restored to her to enable her to regain her 
faculties. The **k' las" of children are supposed to be peculiarly 
susceptible to being enticed away by those of the dead. Hence, it 
is customary to tie children up in the house while a corpse is being 
carried out. I have experienced considerable difficulty in inducing 
the inhabitants of outlying villages to let me take their pictures, 
for fear their "k' las" would be carried off along with the photo- 

^* A full study of the Karen "k' la" and "tha" was made by the early missionaries to de- 
termine which of these two words should be used in translating the word, souL "Tha" was the 
word finally chosen. The results of these studies are recorded, those of Dr. Wade, in The Karen 
Thesaurus, new ed.. Vol. I, 442, fT, and those of Dr. Mason in the Journal, Asiatic Society of 
Bengal, Vol. XXX, Pt. II, 195, ff. 


graph.^* In the early days when white men were still a strange 
sight to the people, they would beat their breasts and call their 
"k' las" to come back, evidently fearing that the latter would follow 
in curiosity after the strangers. A friend of mine had a similar ex- 
perience among the Karen of Siam only a few years ago. 

The people think that a wandering "k'la" may remain invisible 
or assume the form of the person himself. Stories are told of 
these wandering ghosts. A man who had been absent from his 
village met the apparition of his wife on his way home. It in- 
formed him that it was going to see its mother, but it consented 
to spend the night with him in the jungle. As they had no 
food, the ghost, which was supposed by the man to be his wife in 
person, went back to their house and took what food it wanted from 
the cooking pots, without revealing itself at all. Next morning the 
man and his ghostly wife took their separate paths, the former be- 
ing greatly shocked on arriving in the village to find the burial rites 
of his wife in progress. Realizing that it was his wife's "k'la" 
which he had met in the jungle, he wished that he had called it 
back. Another story relates that a husband was so incensed at 
seeing his wife (the apparition being really her "k'la") wander- 
ing abroad that he struck her in the face. This act had the desired 
effect, for the "k' la" hastened back to its deserted body and thereby 
put an abrupt end to the funeral ceremonies, which were already 
in progress. This wandering propensity of the "k'la" leads to other 
complications than those already mentioned. The elders are author- 
ity for the statement that even though a couple are living together 
as man and wife, their "k* las" may form unions with those of 
other persons, especially during the hours of sleep. Even the 
efforts of a necromancer to summon the wandering "k* la" of a 
sick person may result in attracting the "k' la" of some other per- 
son to occupy the deserted body, in whose behalf the efforts are be- 
ing put forth. The new occupant may remain only while generous 
offerings are made to it, and the sick person is sure to experience 
a serious relapse when it leaves. 

It seems to be believed also that the "k' las" of human beings 
may take on other forms, such as those of insects. Animals have 
"k' las" which can do the same thing. Sometimes when moths are 

^* Sir J. G. Frazer quotes Dr. Nieuwerhuii. who tells of a similar experience amoner the 
people of Borneo: Golden BougK Vol. Ill, p. 99. Some of the Karen object to having: their 
photographs taken on account of their fear of sympathetic ma^ic, that is, they fear that aji acci- 
dent to the photoflrraph would cause a similar one to the orisrinal. 



within the villsge plot. The Ullei 
-toddy-PBlniB.'' Notice the poU : 


flying about a light people say : ''Let the ''k' las" of beasts and other 
creatures fall into the flame, but let the 'k' las' of men fly carefully 
and save themselves." 

Inanimate objects have their "k* las," as well as the lower 
creatures. Ownership in such possessions is duly observed by 
killing the pigs and fowls of a woman when she dies. The remains 
are thrown away or given to foreigners, who do not share the su- 
perstitions of the Karen. The paddy-cleaning implements and 
clothing of the deceased are either burned or buried with the corpse, 
unless they are laid on top of her grave. In like manner the oxen 
belonging to a man who has died are killed and disposed of, while 
his personal effects are burned or put in the grave with him. Other- 
wise, the owner's "k' la" might return to the village for his prop- 
erty and thereby bring calamity on the inhabitants. 

The idea seems to prevail among the Karen that the "k* las" 
enter and leave their bodies through the fontanel on the top of the 
head. In case a child falls and cries the mother will blow on this 
spot, in order to keep the life principle from escaping. However, 
the customary method of preventing the escape of the "k* la" is to 
tie a string around the wrists, either one or both of them, after 
fanning up the arms to blow the "k' la" back. Anybody may per- 
form this act, but the services of elders or necromancers ("wi") 
are preferred. 

Another conception of the "k' la," quite distinct from that set 
forth above, is- that it is a seven-fold spirit inhabiting the body, 
whose death it is constantly striving to accomplish through one or 
another of seven methods, namely, insanity, licentiousness, epilepsy, 
oppression, diseases, accidents, and injury by wild beasts. Even 
from the birth of a person the seven-fold "k' la" accepts the respon- 
sibility of causing his or her death and is engaged in constant strug- 
gle with that person's "so" (personality or character) for the mas- 
tery. As long as the "so" is strong, it serves as the individual's 
guardian angel; and he remains immune both from the attacks 
of the seven-fold "k' la" and from the magic arts of witches 
and necromancers. However powerful the charm that may be em- 
ployed against him, his dominating "so" will ward it off ; but if his 
"so" should become weak, he will soon lose his immunity.^'* 

^B See Dr. J. Wade's account in The Karen Theaaurua, new ed.. Vol. I, pp. 450, 17. 

222 the karen people of burma 

The Continuity of Life 

The Karen do not appear to have conceived the idea of an im- 
mortal life. They speak of "k' las" in "plu" (hades) as dying", 
when the "k* las" are believed to enter an intermediate stage of ex- 
istence, becoming "sgheu." These "sgheu" are represented as some- 
thing like eggs or bladders filled with a vaporous substance. When, 
later, these vapor-filled objects burst, their contents spread over 
the fields ; and the developing flowers of the paddy and other plants 
are thereby fertilized, for the vapor contains the fructifying prin- 
ciple. When the grain is eaten as food, its life-giving power is com- 
municated to the blood. Thence, it is imparted to the seminal fluid, 
by means of which men and animals are enabled to propagate life. 
The transmission of life from shades or ghosts back to life again is 
expressed in Karen speech by the root "lo," which signifies to expose 
or open one thing to the influence of another. Inasmuch as the 
fecundating of the paddy takes place in the rainy season, the "Law 
hpo," a company of demons who regulate the rainfall, are supposed 
to act as agents in bringing it about. When the kernels are form- 
ing in the heads of the paddy, the Karen are wont to say : "Bu deu 
htaw li," which means literally, "The paddy has conceived." ^® 

1" See Chapter XXII on Supernatural and Mythical Bein^. p. 230. 


In the Karen demonism the spirits are nearly all malevolent, 
and it takes a large share of the time of the people to keep on good 
terms with them. In the hills and remote 'regions these mythical 
beings still hold sway; but the average Karen on the plains of 
Lower Burma retains only a vague and dubious belief in these 
powers, which have lost their control over him for the most part, 
now that he has come into contact with many outside influences. 
The fullest account of these spirits is given in the Karen Thesaurus 
and the writings of Drs. Francis Mason and E. B. Cross. It is from 
these records, written in the early days before the Karen were dis- 
turbed by civilizing influences, that I have chiefly drawn the ma- 
terials for this chapter.^ 

These numerous beings may be divided into three groups or 
divisions: first, those spirits that are thought to dwell apart, 
to possess human attributes, and to control the destiny of men and 
events; second, the spirits of mortals that for some reason have 
been condemned to wander about and that have relations, usually 
evil, with living men ; and, third, a number of hetergeneous spirits 
that never were mortal, but still can influence men at various times 
and places. The members of this class are not so generally recog- 
nized as those of the first class. 

In the first group are the "Mii xa" and the "Hti k' sa kaw 
k* sa," both of which are conceived of as being companies of divini- 
ties; "Naw k' plaw" or "Mii kaw li," who corresponds to Satan; 
"Hpi Bi Yaw," the Karen com maiden; "Hku Te," the ruler of 
hades, and "Teu Kweh," the rainbow. 

The "Mii xa" seem to be a race of celestial beings, of whom 
"Mu xa do" (literally, the great "Mu xa") is the king. They appear 
to have existed prior to men, but good men may after death become 
members of their company and dwell with them in the upper re- 
gions of the air. They are not malicious, although offerings are 

1 Dr. J. Wade, The Karen Thesauruay ed. of 1915. Vol. I, pp. 455-484 : Dr. F. Mason. 
Journal Aaiatie Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXIV. Pt. II, pp. 195, ff; Rev. B- B. Cross, Journal, 
Oriental Society, Vol. IV, (1854) pp. 812. flf. 



made to them lest their anger should be aroused by some untoward 
act on the part of men. Their special task is to preside over births. 
Their king occupies himself with the creation of men, but, being 
interrupted continually by various demands upon his attention, he 
turns out many defectives, cripples, and badly colored ones. This 
poor workmanship led men in the past to revile the "Mii xa," 
who, consequently, no longer show themselves to mortals. They 
have the power to unite the souls of those whom they have 
predestined to marry. Those thus paired are vouchsafed prosper- 
ous and happy lives ; but if they succeed in mating with others than 
those intended for them, incompatibility and adversity surely fol- 
low. The "Mii xa" are often addressed as though they were the 
parents of mankind and appear to hold places comparable to that 
of Zeus or Jupiter among the gods of the ancient Greeks and Ro- 
mans. They are often spoken of in Karen lore as dwelling on Mount 
"Thaw Thi," as Zeus in Greek mythology had his abode on 
Mount Olympus.2 In the celebration of family rites and feasts the 
"Mii xa" are recognized by having words addressed to them, al- 
though the family spirits, commonly designated as "Bgha," are 
often thought of as the powers to be propitiated at this ceremony. 
In some sections of the country the "parents of mankind" are 
supposed to receive offerings in their extended hands, which are 
thereby cleansed. They are then expected to return to their ce- 
lestial abode, the hope being that they will not descend again to 
the dwelling-place of mortals, lest, by some mischance, they should 
become offended and bring misfortune upon men.. They are be- 
lieved to be able to assume any form they wish and to render 
themselves visible or invisible at will.^ 

One member of this group, called "Mii xa hkleu," is thought to 
preside over the much-venerated banyan (Ficus religiost). It was 
under a banyan tree that Gautama Buddha received his enlighten- 
ment. The banyan is, however, held sacred by most of the tribes of 
Indo-China, even though they are not Buddhists. No doubt the won- 
derful vitality of the seeds of this tree which germinate anywhere, 
especially in the crotches of other trees and in the head of the palm, 
later enveloping, killing, and thriving on its host, has helped to 
evoke the veneration of the peoples familiar with the banyan. Ac- 
cording to the Karen legends, the rhinoceros ("ta do hkaw") is the 
beast on which the guardian spirit of the banyan tree is accustomed 

= See Chapter XXV in rcgrard to Mount "Thaw Thi," pp. 262-264. 

3 For a description of the rites tendered to the "Mu xa" see pp. 248, 254, 260. 


to ride when searching for the "k' las" of human beings. Any per- 
son who kills one of these animals arouses the enmity of the spirit. 

The "Hti k' sa kaw k' sa," or "lords of the water and land," or 
"lords of the earth," are the deities who rule over the lands of the 
earth. They are superior to the spirits that preside over rivers and 
mountains and have tempers that are easily disturbed. Ill-spoken 
words* as well as improper and immoral actions, easily offend them ; 
and they take vengeance on persons guilty of such misde- 
meanors by sending tigers, snakes, and various illnesses upon them. 
They are sometimes confused with the king of hades, who also 
passes judgment on the sins of mortals. One way to avoid anger- 
ing the lords of the earth is to scrape a little rice from the top of 
the pot while cooking and lay it aside as an offering to them. Con- 
cerning their relation to these divinities, the people say that if they 
transgress in their language while in a distant land, the lords of 
the earth will kill them before dark; but if guilty of swearing or 
using indecent words in their own country, they can assuage the 
anger of these spirits by making an offering of rice and water at 
the foot of a tree and uttering the following prayer: "O Lords of 
the earth, we are ignorant people. Whatever transgressions we 
have been guilty of in using harsh or obscene words, do not, O 
Lords, hold them against us. We will make offerings annually. 
If we do not die, you shall eat of our food every year and of our 
children's offerings generation after generation." 

Every tree, river, lake, and, indeed, almost every natural object 
is supposed by the Karen to be inhabited by its "k' sa" or divinity. 
These local spirits, however, are regarded by many as constituting 
lower orders of the divinities of the first group. When a man 
selects the location for his field, he must perform certain cere- 
monies to win their good will. The simplest of these is to place 
offerings of rice and water at the foot of some large tree in the 
plot chosen or to go through the ceremonies described in the chap- 
ter on Agricultural Pursuits and Other Occupations.* There are 
also the annual sacrifices to these spirits that have been described 
fully in the chapter on Propitiatory Sacrifices and Healing Offer- 
ings, pp. 234, ff . 

The nefarious work and character of "Naw k' plaw" or "Mii 
kaw li" have been sufficiently revealed in the narration of the story 
of his temptation of the first parents of the Karen race in the 

* See ante, pp. 76, ft. 


orchard that was planted for them by the great and eternal God, 
"Y'wa." (See pp. 214-216.) 

The divinity that presides over the cultivation of the paddy is 
known as "Hpi Bi Yaw." The legend relating to this goddess states 
that she and her spouse, in the form of pythons, slept on the paddy 
pile of a certain man and thereby caused the increase of his grain 
until it filled three bins, but that the ungrateful wretch killed the 
male serpent, bringing a curse upon himself as the result of which 
his supply gave out at the end of three months. In the attempt to 
buy enough grain to furnish food for his family he was reduced to 
poverty. After this "Hpi Bi Yaw" taught an orphan how to raise 
abundant crops in return for offerings which he made to her. As 
the other people were ignorant of what was expected of them, she 
first destroyed their crops and later caused their death, thereby in- 
stituting the custom of sacrifices in her honor. 

Another legend in regard to "Hpi Bi Yaw" relates that in the 
guise of a dreadful old hag she begged men, who were seeking food 
in the jungle during a famine, to share with her. They refused; 
but an orphan, following in her path, took pity on her and was re- 
warded by being instructed in all the arts of raising paddy. Be- 
ginning with three kernels, which he took from the stomach of a 
dove, he grew both the early and the ordinary varieties of rice, as 
well as the glutinous rice. With a small knife given him by the 
goddess he was able to clear away the jungle-growth from his field 
at a stroke. Returning home with him, she directed him to boil a 
pot of water, and into it she shook an ample quantity of rice for the 
meal from her finger-tips. Through her favor his field surpassed all 
others in productivity and was cut by one sweep of the sickle. The 
grain was transferred from the field to its bin by magic, and, al- 
though stolen by the villagers, was restored by the goddess's 
dancing in the empty bin. During successive years she befriended 
the orphan and even dwelt in a hut in his field during the cultivat- 
ing season, until he became prosperous enough to marry. The very 
next season, however, the orphan's wife became jealous of the god- 
dess, came to the field, and beat her with a bamboo pole, until the 
divinity managed to escape from her assailant by changing herself 
into a cricket and hiding in a crab's burrow. "Hpi Bi Yaw" be- 
came so incensed at the outrageous treatment she had received 
that she has never returned since to aid any mortal; but 


offerings are made to her, and the rim of earth that encircles the 
entrance to crabs' burrows is placed on top of the paddy pile and 
in the bin in her honor." 

"Hkii Te" is the lord of the res:ion of death, the king of hades. 
His origin is explained as follows : A couple dwelling in the spirit 

realm once plotted to slay and devour their son-in-law. Accord- 
ingly, they turned themselves into giant winding creepers hanging 
across the road by which their intended victim was returning from 
his field, carrying a basket of paddy. Instead of attempting to pass 
under the vines, as he was expected to do, the son-in-law severed 
them with his sickle. One of the creepers, the wife, immediately 
flew upward to the aky and became a rainbow, while the other pen- 
etrated the earth, resumed his original form as a man, and became 
king of hades. There he receives the souls of mortals and rules 
over the dead. As judge of those under his authority he grants per- 
mission to the ones that have lived worthily to enter the higher 
realms, but he condemns to the lowest hell those of base lives. No 
offerings are made to this Karen Pluto. 

den. Kcrnaby. mnd (URsata that ot the Rommn 
"The Spirit! ot the Cora and of the Wild," I 


''Hkii Te" is to be seen as a rainbow in the west occasionally. 
At such times, according to one version of the legend, he is lowering: 
a tube through which to drink the liquor provided at wedding- 
feasts. When a rainbow appears in the west early in the morning, 
the king of hades is again in the sky, this time setting up a funeral 
post ("t le") for his children/ From this it seems that he has had 
several offspring, but his wife has never borne him any since their 
son-in-law thwarted their plot against his life in the remote past. 
The funeral post is intended to remind men that many persons have 
died without receiving proper burial ceremonies. Such neglect en- 
tails some sort of a calamity. Hence, the Karen are stricken with 
terror when they observe the rainbow arching the western heavens 
early in the morning, especially if this sign is accompanied by 
thunder and earthquake. Under such circumstances they will not go 
to their work, for it is tabu.^ If a Karen should point at such a 
rainbow, he would at once thrust his finger into his navel in order 
to avoid the loss of the offending member. This act is called "ugh 
de de." 

The people say of the rainbow in the east that at the time 
"Teu Kweh," wife of "Hku Te," became the bow of promise in the 
sky she was pregnant, and, being now separated from the earth, 
she is seen from time to time in the east going to draw water for 
herself. The souls of women who die with child are supposed to 
have no other means of obtaining drink, except from the rainbow 
divinity. When two rainbows appear in the east, the upper and 
larger one is her husband, who is visiting with her. 

The second group of spirits among the Karen comprises those 
who have spent some time on earth as human beings, but have not 
gained entrance into the realm of the dead because they were de- 
nied funeral rites either on account of their bad character or on ac- 
count of their having died by violence. Hence they are doomed to 
wander about, avenging themselves upon mortals. As they are sup- 
posed to be particularly occupied with this mission at nightfall, the 
Karen think it imprudent to be out during the early evening. 

This division consists of three groups of beings. The first are 
"Th' re ta hka," or ghosts of those who have died violent deaths or 
have been carried off by epidemics of cholera, smallpox, etc. and 
could not, therefore, be given proper funeral ceremonies. They are 
believed to bring violent deaths and epidemics upon mortals, prob- 

^ See Chapter XX on Funeral Customs, p. 200. 
^ See Chapter XXV III on Tabu, p. 289. 


ably in revenge for the manner of their own taking-off . The second 
group is made up of those who were notoriously evil in the 
earthly life and suffered capital punishment for their crimes, and 
of those who as chiefs were known to be tyrants. This group as a 
whole is called "Ta mii xa." ® Its members appear in the forms of 
giants and goblins or of Burman "pongyis" (Buddhist monks) and 
are usually seen by sick persons whose spirits ("k'las") they are 
seeking and on which they subsist.® These demons are attended 
by dogs in the form of woodpeckers. According to a legend two 
men, who were detained in the forest until night, heard a wood- 
pecker call, and immediately thereafter they heard some ghosts 
say that the dog had barked. One of the men shouted, but they 
could distinguish nothing but some remark about monkeys, followed 
by the sound of a bowstring. The pair being thus discovered by 
the woodpecker, which was evidently with the demons, were stricken 
with a chill and died the next morning. Consequently, when a 
Karen hears the scream of this bird of ill-omen, he calls out : 

"Shun me ; stay far off. 
Go thine own way; keep thine own road." 

The third group of the ghosts of mortals consists of those 
who, through some accident, have been deprived of the funeral 
ceremonies. This group was discovered ages ago through the dis- 
tressing experience of a certain patriarch, who came upon the body 
of a Talain who had been struck by lightning. He carried off the 
skull, took it home, and put it up over his fireplace. During the 
night the death's-head assumed human form and wandered all over 
the house, thereby striking terror into the members of the family. 
Before morning it resumed its former shape. The ghosts of people 
thus accidentally killed and left unburied are called "Ta t' hka" or 
"Ta s' hka." They inspire the Karen with horror, a fact taken ad- 
vantage of by some miscreants who work evil on their enemies by 
means of a skull kept for the purpose. However, such working of 
evil falls within the realm of magic.^** 

The third general division of spirits comprises a heterogeneous 
lot of divinities, who exercise more or less influence on the life and 
prosperity of men. Some of these may have been inherited from 

* The Karen designation of this group diflTem in pronunciation from that of the celestial 
beings (Mii xa) not only in having three syllables, but also in that its last syllable has the grave 
or heavy tone, while in the latter case "xa" is given the rising or light tone. 

* For the rites in connection with these, see p. 240. 
i« See Chapter XXVI on Magic, p 274. 


older tribes in the country, but have become the common property 
of the Karen for several generations back. 

The Titan Atlas of the ancient Greeks, supporting a globe, has 
his counterpart in "Hsi gu maw ya" or "Maw ya," as he is some- 
times called. He is a brother of "Y'wa" and holds the world on his 
shoulders. When he grows weary, he shifts it from one side to the 
other and thus causes earthquakes. Sometimes the beetles that feed 
on the refuse of human beings report to him that they are starving, 
because there are no more people to supply them with food. This 
so angers him that he shakes himself and produces a series of 
earth-tremors. As these phenomena are common in Burma, the 
Karen seek to quiet them by shouting out : "We are still here. We 
are still here." Work is tabu during the day on which an earth- 
quake occurs." 

The semiannual change of seasons can not but attract the at- 
tention of the people living in Burma. For the Karen a company of 
demons, the "Law," is responsible for the wet season and another 
group, the "Hku de," for the dry season. The former, who are 
sometimes named the "Law hpo" (signifying a company of them), 
are believed to have cities and dwellings in the upper regions, 
whence they regulate the rainfall and reveal themselves in the 
thunder and lightning. The flashes of lightning are nothing less 
than the flapping of their wings and the thunder is the rattle of their 
flying shafts against their foes, the "Hku de." 

The "Law" are also regarded as the source of the fructifying 
power in all plants and trees that form their fruits in the wet 
season. The grain is said to be conceiving when the kernels are de- 
veloping, and the "Law hpo" are said to be the husbands who bring 
this about. Their function is to provide the plants, especially the 
Z:.:.f.y which is heading during the latter part of the rainy sea- 
son, with the "sgheu" (the life-giving principle), that is, the va- 
porous substance that comes from the land of the dead and revives 
all life on the earth.^^ The scarcity of domestic animals among the 
Karen is attributed to these demons, who are alleged to have raised 
such a stifling dust by shooting their shafts against the rocks that 
the creatures took refuge in the jungle and became wild before they 
could be caught again. 

The enemies of the "Law," the "Hku de," are also demons of 
the upper air with a human appearance, but no abiding-place. Dur- 

11 See Chapter XXVIII on Tabu, p. 289. 

1- See Chapter XXI on Reli'srious Conceptions, p. 222. 


ing the period when the "Law" are supreme, these divinities betake 
themselves to the clefts and fissures of the rocks on Mount "Thaw 
Thi" ; but towards the end of the wet season they begin to gather 
their forces together for a mortal combat with their opponents. 
The flashing of spears is seen in the forked lightning, and the force 
of the blows exchanged is revealed in the roar of the thunder. The 
"Law hpo" are unable to hold out against the onslaught and with- 
draw for six months to the fissures and rifts in the rocks from 
which the "Hku de" came forth. A half-year later the "Law" will 
vanquish the present victors. 

The "P'yo" are demons, usually in the form of dragons or ser- 
pents, that blow the water up from the ocean and produce the clouds 
from which the rain descends. They sometimes take on human 
form, and in this guise they figure in many Karen tales. They pre- 
side over the deep pools of streams, whose flow may otherwise be 
reduced to the merest trickle. The king of the crocodiles, "Maw 
law kwi," is said to be one of these demons. 

Eclipses, like the clouds, are. supposed to be caused by demons ; 
but the eclipse-producing demons were once the dogs of a certain 
mythical personage who tried unsuccessfully to recover his stolen 
elixir of life from the moon. These dogs are "K' paw ta thu" and 
"T' hke mo bak." '' 

There are other mythical beings of whom the Karen have more 
or less vague ideas, for example, the two daughters of "Y'wa" 
who came to earth in order to improve the condition of men. A 
prophet discovered their identity and urged the people to build a 
temple for their worship. The Pwo Karens not only failed to fol- 
low this advice, but also disregarded the proprieties so far as to 
begin pulling out their gold and silver hair ornaments. The god- 
desses became so disgusted with this rude treatment that they 
hastened back to their celestial abode, nevermore to be seen by 

A large group of malevolent beings, much feared by the Karen, 
are the "Ta na." These are witch-like in their operations, but pos- 
sess the power to assume almost any form at will in order to harm 
mortals and are superhuman. They are not to be confused with the 
Burmese "nats," although they have certain resemblances to them.^* 

^* For the tale of the origin of eclipses see Chapter XI on Measures of Time and Space. 
Karen Astronomy, p. 59. 

1* See "Shwe Yoe" (Sir J. G. Scott). The Burman, His Life and Notions, Chap. XXII, pp. 
299, ff. 


The origin of the "Ta na" is explained in two ways. According to 
one of these accounts, a basket containing all manner of living crea- 
tures was once set before the human race. The people were com- 
manded to partake of them all, lest, if any were left, they might be 
themselves devoured by the survivors. But the "Ta na" clung so 
closely to the bottom of the basket that they were overlooked and 
have been able to terrify mortals ever since. The other explanation 
of the origin of these beings is that they were a sort of super- 
natural stomach belonging to certain persons and subsisting not on 
ordinary food, but on the "k'las" or spirits of human beings. The 
stomachs were capable of detaching themselves, in order to go in 
search of their special kind of nutriment. They may perhaps be 
compared to the old conception of the nightmare in English folk- 
lore, except that this demon confined its activities to the sleeping 
hours of the victim. The depredations of the horrible "Ta na" are 
related in many stories, of which the following may serve as an 
illustration : 

A man was awakened one night by a figure, which he took to be 
that of his nephew in the act of massaging him. Next morning the 
nephew denied all knowledge of the incident and requested his 
uncle to strike him, if he was again detected in so strange a 
procedure. The next night there was a recurrence of the inci- 
dent, but the uncle refrained from hitting his nephew, as he sup- 
posed the apparition to be. On the third night, however, he cut off 
the head of the troublesome visitor; and after dawn a headless 
corpse was found in the village, which the uncle regarded as proof 
that the "na" had assumed the form of his nephew in the effort to 
obtain his own shade ("k'la"). 

In another instance, one of the "Ta na" gave a slave girl the 
appearance of her mistress and vice versa. As a result of this 
exchange of characters the husband sent his wife into the fields to 
drive the birds from the standing grain. The wife, making friends 
with the birds, easily induced them to let the paddy alone; while 
she sent a dove to her mother to fetch some fragrant oil, by means 
of which she was at length restored to her own form and station. 

One of the measures sometimes taken by a Karen to protect his 
field from the ravages of the birds, is to impale a tuft of grass on 
a sharp stick in token of the kind of treatment he declares himself 
to be visiting on the demon itself. The latter is thereby duly 
warned to stay away from the field. 


As certain "na" dwell in the water, persons who go in bathing 
must take care not to offend them. Otherwise, the bathers are liable 
to sudden illness. 

A monster called "T'nu" appears destined to play the part of 
destroying angel among the Karen after the righteous shall have 
disappeared from the earth. He will then exterminate the wicked. 
He is represented as going about with a huge crossbow. 

There is a race of giants, known as "Daw t'ka," who, like the 
"Ta na," feed on the "k'las" of mortals. They are greatly feared 
by the Karen, especially in Siam where the people refuse to send 
their children to school in the neighboring district of Moulmein, 
lest these spirit-eating giants may devour them. 

In the Shwegyin district "Ta t' hkaw hkaw" (the one- 
legged one) is a demon with the form of a female with but one leg 
on which she hops along the jungle paths, occasionally falling over. 
If one answers her call for help and assists her to arise, her ill- 
temper causes her to give no other acknowledgment of the service 
than a slap in the face of him who renders it. The Brecs offer the 
alleged bones of this creature for sale to the women of other tribes, 
who prize them greatly as charms. 

From the foregoing account it will be readily seen that the life 
of the Karen has been dominated by superstitious beliefs in unseen 
and malicious powers, which seem to be always in waiting to take 
offense and do some harm to his crops, his family, or himself. In 
the succeeding chapter his efforts to propitiate and keep on good 
terms with these myriad demons are set forth. 



The rites and sacrifices of the Karen people seem almost innum- 
erable. As we have seen elsewhere, their offerings are designed to 
placate the evil powers and win the favor of the good. It is difficult 
to discover the exact meaning of the numerous ceremonies ; for the 
people are reticent about them, fearing that the demons may over- 
hear and learn their motives or other matters connected with the 
rites that may anger them. Often persons who are performing 
some ceremony do not pretend to know its meaning, frankly admits 
ting that they do not understand but are simply following the 
customs of the elders. Offerings that seem nearly alike to the 
foreign resident in Burma have their special significance for the 
Karen, being made to different demons, or at special times, or as 
preventives, cures, etc. The religion of the Karen is not one of love 
and worship, but largely of fear of the occult powers by which they 
believe themselves to be surrounded. Their ceremonies and offer- 
ings are, therefore, inspired by personal and utilitarian motives, 
namely, to avert danger and bring good fortune. Hence, it is not un- 
common for the ritualist to make his offering not to a single demon 
but to "all you evil spirits." Since the "k'la" or life principle of 
human beings is supposed to be the normal food of these spirits, 
sickness is to be avoided or cured by offerings of the most savory 
foods, drink, and other things that may tempt the hungry demon 
from the person whose shade it is trying to devour. 

For convenience we may divide the propitiatory ceremonies 
into three classes. One group comprises those acts of homage, 
sometimes elaborate, in which the demons are invoked with sacri- 
fices and rites, as in the case of the offerings to the lords of the 
land and water ("Hti k' kaw k' sa"), to the "Mil xa," and to the 
"Bgha" of the particular family. The second group consists of the 
rites used in placating evil demons who may be feeding upon the 
"k' la" of a sick person. These take the form of offerings and ap- 
peals to the wandering shade to return to its proper abode. The 
third group is that in which the offerings are made to the shade 



itself, when it has left the body of its own volition or on account of a 
sudden fright, and is liable to become lost in the jungle. In such 
cases the "k* la" must be lured back and induced to remain in the 
body it normally animates. 

The "Hti k' sa kaw k' sa" are the powers that rule the earth 
and that most abhor the sins of lust.^ It is to these powers that the 
Sgaw and Bwe tribes make a periodic sacrifice ("Ta lu hpa do" or the 
great sacrifice), ordinarily once in three years, but when the crops 
fail because of their sins, as they think, as often as once a year. 
The sacrifice serves the double purpose of honoring the lords of 
the land and water and purging the people of their carnal sins. 
When, therefore, the tribes enjoy a prolonged period of prosperity, 
they consider themselves morally acceptable to the powers and delay 
their sacrifice for four or even five years.^ 

A. The Great Sacrifice of the Sgaw 

Among the Sgaw the great sacrifice is ordered by the most in- 
fluential chief of the country, his directions being given to those 
chiefs who are willing to acknowledge his superiority and by them 
in turn to their villages. The time being appointed, a suitable spot 
near a good stream is chosen to which every family is expected to 
bring a boar and a white fowl, while the chiefs each bring a bullock 
or a goat. An altar of bamboo with seven posts on each side is 
erected, the roof of which consists of seven tiers each smaller than 
the one below, like that of a Buddhist palace. Posts are set round 
to which the sacrificial creatures are tied. On the day named for 
the ceremonies a jar of liquor is placed at the foot of each post, and 
'^. young man is appointed by each chief to kill his animal after a 
prayer has been uttered by the great chief. During the prayer the 
young men stand holding their "xeh" (sickles) over their victims, 
while the chiefs place their hands on the animals. The prayer is as 
follows : 

"O Lords of the land and water. O Lords of mercy. Lest the country 
should be stricken and the grain destroyed; lest the people should be distressed 
and a pestilence come upon them, we put our sins on these buffaloes, oxen, and 
goats.3 From this day henceforth may it please you to disregard our sins. Let 

^ See page 226. 

' Dr. Mason in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXIV, pp. 212, ff. ; 
Rev. T. Than By a in Karen Customs, pp. 20. ft. 

* In these ceremonies one can readily see the similarity to that of the scapegoat of ancient 
Israel. (Lev. 16:21-28). For a full discussion of this widespread idea, see Sir J. G. Frazer's 
article on "The Scape Goat," in The Golden Bough, Vol. IX. 


illness not come upon our people. O ye Great Spirits that rule the heaven and 
the earth, receive our offerings and have mercy upon us. From how on may our 
land be fruitful, may the work of our children prosper, may they keep well. 
Forget our evil deeds, which bring distress. May these things come to pass be- 
cause of the offerings that we are now making." 

The young men hamstring the animals and cut their throats as 
soon as the chiefs remove their hands. The blood is poured around 
the place of sacrifice. The gall-bladders are examined to see if they 
are full and well-rounded. If so, the sacrifice is thought to be ac- 
ceptable. Otherwise, it is evident that the sins of the people are 
not yet absolved and will not be, until they provide satisfactory ani- 
mals. Assuming, however, that the first offering proves to be ac- 
ceptable, the hair is burned off of the animals. Their heads and 
feet are cut off and laid upon the altar, and seven bamboo water- 
joints are fastened to its posts. When the flesh is cooked the great 
chief goes to the altar, takes some rice and meat on a silver tray, 
fills all of the bamboo joints and puts some of the food down at 
various places on the altar. He then eats a morsel himself, after 
which each of the others eat in turn. 

While this ceremony is in progress, every one must confess his 
sins. If there is any doubt about a person, he must remove it either 
by the water ordeal or by that of climbing a tree. The water ordeal 
consists of two parts. First, the person doubted and the one doubt- 
ing him take each a plantain stem and toss it into the swift cur- 
rent of the river. The chief notes which stem is thrown up 
higher by the water. Second, this part is far more serious : it con- 
sists in pushing the two men under the water and holding them 
there by means of forked sticks across their necks. The first one 
struggling up for air is accounted the loser. If he is the same one 
whose plantain was tossed lower than that of his opponent, he ia 
regarded as surely guilty. 

In the ordeal of tree climbing the contending men are sent in 
turn up a tree that has been cut around the foot until almost ready 
to fall. The climber must ascend to the top and throw down a gar- 
ment so deftly as not to touch any one of a number of spears set 
up around its base. During the test the tree must not sway or creak, 
much less fall. The one who performs this feat with the least dis- 
turbance to the tree is the winner. 


B. The Bwe Sacrifice 

The Sgaw offer their great sacrifice in January.* The Bwe, 
however, make their offering in July when the paddy is well started. 
They sacrifice one hog in a central spot of the village lands, first 
erecting a booth, under a eugenia tree, which they consider sacred. 
Four elders act as priests, their functions being herediatary."^ Each 
man cuts three bamboos, one to represent a post of his paddy-bin 
and the other two to show the height he wants the grain to be in 
his bin. Then he makes a miniature bin, a long pen, a trap, and a 
snare. When the people assemble, only the most prosperous elders 
sit with the priests in the booth. No women are allowed to be 

The leader takes a sprig from a eugenia tree and raises it 
in his clasped hand to heaven and prays, the others doing likewise. 
The leader then spears the hog; and, when the blood flows, all 
seize their bamboos and cry out : "May my paddy be as high as these 
bamboos." Some declare that they have caught many rats in their 
traps and others that they have snared many wild fowls, in proof 
of their purpose to protect the growing grain. Others dance and 
shout, while some beat gongs or blow bamboo pipes. 

The hog is then carried to the village to be cooked. Each man 
also provides a fowl. When all the food has been prepared, it is 
brought back to the booth; and, after a prayer much like that 
quoted above, they set out the food but eat none of it. On their 
way back to the village they dance and sing and spend the night 
in revelry. Next morning they return to the booth, and the priests 
begin to eat of the food left there, all being allowed to partake; 
but any one who considers himself unholy must not eat, for the 
food is sacred. Not only persons guilty of immoral conduct, but 
also men whose wives are pregnant are under tabu. 

After the feast, when they have again danced their way back to 
the village, the chiefs draw two joints of water for each family 
and carry them into the village. The families are then called out 
on their verandas and each family group, including the women and 
children, is sprinkled with water from one of the joints brought for 
it. The other is carried to the field next morning by the head of 

* So far as I have been able to ascertain, it seems to have been many years since one 
of these srreat sacrifices has been observed by the Sgaw Karen of Lower Burma. I have been able 
to get no contemporary accounts of such a ceremony. As to the length of time since the Bwe 
have held such a sacrifice, I can give no definite information. 

* See p. 247 on priests amoncr the Bwe. 


the family, and its contents are sprinkled on the grain. This rite 
is supposed to cleanse the families from evil and to produce good 
crops. The four priests officiate under special names, of which 
three signify, respectively, lord of the village, messenger, and 

Kasen GiFiLs Pounding PAont m a MaRTAH Out-dp-doou 

keeper of the village. I do not know the meaning of the fourth title. 
During the ceremony they wear embroidered tunics, longer than 
ordinary garments. From the people they receive gifts of beads 
and ear ornaments. In some villages a bullock is substituted for 
the hog, and in one of the Mopgha villages near Toungoo the in- 
habitants require a coal-black bullock, being witling to pay a large 
price in order to obtain one. 


C. The Small Sacrifice of the Sgaw 

Besides the great sacrifice offered by the Sgaw to the lords 
of the land, they also make a small sacrifice ("Ta lii hpo") to the 
same powers. A few men — ^the exact number being determined by 
divination — build a little booth in the jungle and clear three paths 
leading from it. They sacrifice a white fowl, letting some of its 
blood into a bamboo joint containing liquor. Some of the blood is 
smeared on the outside of the joint and on the posts of the booth, 
and feathers from the fowl are stuck to it. A kind of broom is 
made by splitting a bamboo, with which they beat the booth, while 
praying : "O Lords of the land and water. Let the sick member of 
my family change places with this fowl. Forgive his sins and 
free him from disease." Sometimes they address their prayer to 
the water-witch : "We are offering thee the blood of this fowl. Eat 
this and go thy way. Do not come near us." After cooking and 
eating the fowl, they color a little cotton thread yellow and wind it 
about their water-joint. Having returned home, they draw water 
and sprinkle some of it on the sick person. A piece of the colored 
thread is then tied around his waist so that the demon may identify 
him as the one for whom the offering was made. They must not 
permit any one to accompany them on their sacrificial journey or 
to converse with them. 

II. Offerings for the Sick 

The small sacrifice described above is one of the offerings for 
the sick, but because it is made to the lords of the land rather 
than to the evil spirits who entice away and feed upon the "k'las" 
of human beings, I have grouped it with the offerings to those 
deities. Certain demons are malicious and require placating and di- 
verting to keep them from indulging in this practice, which results 
in the illness and perhaps the death of the persons involved. Div- 
ination may indicate that some particular demon, for example, one 
of the water-witches ("Na hti") or one of the ghosts of tyrants that 
dwell in the jungles ("T're t' hka"), is engaged in this nefarious 
work. If so, the rites peculiar to that demon must be executed in an 
effort to induce it to leave the village and follow the person carry- 
ing the offerings to some lonely spot in the jungle, there to remain 
and partake of the aroma of the feast, much as one would entice 


a pig from rooting in the garden to follow an ear of com back 
to its pen. Having gone through this performance, the carrier 
stealthily returns, trying on the way to deceive the demon into be- 
lieving that he has taken some other trail by blocking the one he 
has actually followed, and fondly thinking that he has removed the 
cause of the sickness of the member of his household. 

I am led to believe that many offerings are made in remote 
districts that belong in this group, although I have obtained no ac- 
curate account of them. The recital in the succeeding paragraphs 
will suffice, however, to convey a general idea of the nature of these 
rites, in all of which, when the ceremony is concluded, the wrist 
of the patient is tied around with a string to keep the "k'la" from 
getting away again.® 

The offering made when the "T're t' hka," or ghosts of evil 
tyrants that inhabit the deep jungles, wander into the village and 
attack the "k' la" of some one, is called "Ta taw law ta." This rite 
requires the weaving of a small basket, in the bottom of which cot- 
ton is laid, and on this four lumps of cooked rice, one colored black 
with soot, another yellow with tumeric, the third red with amotta 
berries (from the Bixa orellana)^ and the fourth left white. A 
chick is tied to the basket, being made secure by binding both its 
wings and its feet. Finally, sprigs of yellow and white cockscomb 
are laid in the basket. 

The basket thus fitted out is carried beyond at least two ridges 
of hills to a place from which it is believed the demon will not be 
able to find its way back. There the basket is set down with its 
contents, and the following petition is offered : "We are bringing 
you red and yellow rice and yellow and white flowers, O Great *T're 
t' hka.' Go back to your own place. Keep away from us." The 
performers of this rite may sweep a spot under the basket and pick 
up a clod of earth near at hand. Calling the "k'la" to follow them, 
they leave the chick and rice with the basket to be the food of the 
ghost and return home. As they go along they break off branches, 
which they place in the path to throw the demon off their track, 
should he attempt to follow them.^ On arriving at the house, they 

^ It 18 not uncommon to see a black line tatooed about a Karen's wrist, the obvious pur- 
pose of which is to serve as a permanent hindrance a^rainst the escape of his "k'la," thus pre- 
venting sickness. 

^ In traveling if one who goes ahead wishes to warn those following not to take a certain 
path, one puts branches across its entrance. Thus, notice is given that the path is "killed" and 
not to be taken. 


call out to ask whether the patient has recovered or not, and, on 
being assured that he has, they ascend the ladder and put a bit of 
the clod in the hole of his ear-lobe, believing that they have taken 
ample measures to promote his recovery. 

In performing the ceremony called "Ta hu law pa law," a bun- 
dle containing a handful of chaff, a piece of broken pot, and a few 
chicken feathers is used to touch the sick person, while "Ta mii to 
xa^ Ta yu ta pleh" are addressed as follows: "O Spirits and very 
bad Witches, we are cooling your anger lest you look with long- 
ing eyes on this person. Restore and heal him. Go back to your 
places, east, west, north, or south. Return to your own abodes." 
The bundle is then borne out along a path indicated by the omens 
and left there. The person carrying it pretends to retire into the 
jungle, but really returns home. 

In the rite known as "Ta taw the hka heh" the patient's friends 
carry to a considerable distance a little basket containing a chick 
and a prepared betel quid. A similar petition to that given above is 
then uttered, and the chick is split in halves and replaced in the 
basket, which is hidden in some hollow tree or rock crevice. Again 
a plea is made, the basket and its contents are left behind, and a 
circuitous route home is followed, the bushes along the way being 
cut in order to convince the demons by the marks of the knife that 
they will be cut by it, should they follow after. 

The rite performed when the water-witches are supposed to 
have enticed a "k'la" away is called "Ta lu hti htu hti." A fowl 
of one color must be carried down to the water, where a small altar 
is erected of two rows of twelve posts each, the two rows converging 
like the rafters of a roof. The fowl is killed and its blood smeared 
on the posts, four feathers being stuck on each of the comer posts. 
The lords of the water and the lakes, the water-witches, are then 
besought, in case the sick person has invaded their province in any 
way or they have caused his illness, to partake of the fowl, sweet 
liquor, and rice that are provided and allow the "k'la" to return 
and the person to recover. The petition closes with the words: 
"Do not look with longing eyes upon him, but eat your feast here." 
The sick man's friends then cook and eat the fowl and return home. 

It appears that sometimes the water-witches are offended by a 
person who is in bathing and cause him to become ill with cramps 
or indigestion. In such a case rice, saffron, and spices are placed 


upon the head of the offender and then taken to a rock at the water- 
side. The witches are summoned by repeatedly striking the rock 
and urged to enjoy their feast there. 

The ceremony, "Ta di law kweh leh," is performed with a 
bundle containing a handful of chaff, bits of broken pot, a piece of 
bamboo, some scrapings of gold and silver, and a fowl. After the 
patient has been touched with this bundle, the demons of "Plii" 
(hades), the king of hades, and the Great Elephant ("Ta do k' the, 
tadok'saw") are addressed as follows: "I am exchanging the 
sick person for a big bird and a big fowl, for quantities of gold and 
silver. Let his shade depart. If you hold him, go." The bundle 
is then carried out along the road and laid down, and the fowl is 
plucked. The latter is brought home, the bushes along the way be- 
ing beaten with a bamboo with split ends, while the "k'la" is sum- 
moned to follow. On arriving near the house, the friends call to 
those within to see if it has returned. On receiving a favorable 
reply, they enter, tie up the wrist of the sick person, and cook 
the fowl.* 

A different form of the above ceremony is described by Thra 
Than Bya.® According to his account, the friends carry only a fowl 
to the place on the road and there place a dead leaf on a little mound 
of earth, after which they call the "k' la" to return. Then they take 
the fowl home and cook it, and, after the sick one has eaten a morsel, 
the rest of the family partake. 

Another form of the offering by the roadside is called "Ka law 
ta." In this instance a bamboo post about four feet long is set up, the 
upper end of which is split and the splints spread apart by weaving 
in and out a piece of bamboo. Upon this a little mat of loosely woven 
bamboo is laid, on which are placed three chicken feathers, a few 
pieces of egg shell, and a roll of cotton blackened with charcoal at 
three points. The feathers seem to represent a fowl and the cot- 
ton a pig, for the one making the offering says, addressing the 
demons in general : "I am giving you a pig and a fowl. Do not come 
near me any more. Help me and heal me." This offering differs 
from any of the others mentioned in this chapter in that it is sym- 

" I am told that now, with the waning of the faith in these old ctistoniB, the person who 
has taken out the offerinR occasionally becomes angrry if the people in the house do not give a 
favorable answer concerning the return of th "k* la" and the improvement of the patient, and 
refuses to repeat the ceremony, as he is supposed to do. 

® Rev. T. Than Bya, Karen Customs, p. 80. 


bolic, and also in the fact that the patient performs the rite in his 
own behalf. 

III. Offerings to the "K'la" Itself 

Sometimes the auspices indicate that the "k' la" of an ill person 
has departed by reason of fright or from some other cause than be- 
ing enticed by a malicious demon. The place to which it has gone 
and the method by which it may be won back are also shown by the 
omens. In such cases the appeal and offerings are made to the 
'*k' la" itself. 

In performing the rite known as "Ta kweh k' la hpa do" (the 
great ceremony of calling the "k'la"), two black fowls, namely, a 
cock and a hen, must be killed by wringing their necks. Their in- 
ternal organs must be cleaned and replaced and the birds cooked 
whole. They are then laid on a tray on which are three Malay 
apple leaves, seven lumps of cold rice, and a cup of fragrant water." 
The tray with its contents is set at the head of the stairs or ladder, 
and a lighted candle is placed there. A white cotton thread is car- 
ried from the tray to the foot of the stairs and fastened. The fra- 
grant water, after being blown upon by the head of the house, is 
sprinkled on the family and on the stairs." A lump of rice is then 
charmed and thrown down the stairs, which are beaten with a stick, 
and the "k' la" of the invalid is summoned. The call is : "Pru-u-u 
k'la," — heh ke, heh ke. (O Shade, come back, come back.)^* If for 
any reason it is thought that the shade has not heeded this call, the 
operation is repeated until the family feels assured that it has re- 
turned. They then immediately break the string by means of which 
it has ascended the stairs and throw it away, lest it should again 
escape. With other pieces of string they tie up the wrists of the 
sick person and the other members of the family, meanwhile calling 
the "k' la" to remain. The patient is bathed all over with what is 
left of the fragrant water and is then expected to recover. 

The rite of "Ta kweh k' la," or inviting the "k'la" to return, is 
performed in the house, like the one described above. The family 

^^ The leaves named (those of the "thabye" or Eugenia malaecensis) are generally used 
for this purpose, but I do not know why. 

^^ When the Karen on the plains perform these ceremonies, in which the wandering "k'la" 
is expected to return to the house by the ladder, they retain the old-fashioned notched losr that 
has served from time immemorial as the means of entrance to the house, but that is being: 
superseded in modem houses by fliffhts of stairs. They think the "k'la" will more easily return 
by the kind of stairs to which it has been accustomed. 

IS "Pru-u-n-" is a sort of trill which the women use in calling their children, pigs, or 
fowls, as well as their "k' las." 


elder takes the stirring-stick from its hole in the fireplace post and 
strikes the top of the house ladder to attract the attention of the 
"k'la," which he begs to return, saying : "Pru-u-u we, pru-u k' la, 
come back, whether you have gone to the west, east, north, or south ; 
come back, whether you are in the bush, jungle, or ends of the earth ; 
come back to your pleasant dwelling, to your comfortable home. I 
will prepare delicious pork and fowl for you. Eat of your rice and 
drink of your liquor. Do not wander off any more." Then the ani- 
mal specified in the divination is killed — ^pig, fowl, goat, ox, or buf- 
falo — and if a fowl, its bones are examined for the omen, which is 
favorable in case the holes are even in number. In case one of the 
animals has been indicated, the performers of the rite look for a 
rounded gall-bladder. If the auspices are unfavorable, they must 
repeat the whole operation until they find the conditions satisfac- 
tory. The animal is then cut up, cooked, and the feast proceeds. 
During these ceremonies every member of the family must be 

The rite, "Ta waw k'la" (driving back the "k'la"), has some 
features not found in the one described in the preceding paragraph 
and is performed in the jungle and along the paths where the ghost 
has disappeared, as revealed by the divination. The man of the 
house splits the end of a bamboo pole into four splints and spreads 
them inuO a crude broom, which he takes to the place where the 
"k'la" became lost. With a prayer similar to that quoted above he 
calls the wandering "k'la" and beats the bushes all the way home. 
Before entering, he asks the usual question about the return of the 
ghost and receives the usual answer. Mounting to the house, he 
beats the top of the ladder with the stirring-stick, repeating the 
invitation to the "k'la" to return and then beats the posts of the 
fireplace, asking repeatedly if it has come back and getting the 
same reply. Finally, the animal or fowl is killed and the omen de- 
clared. In case it is favorable, the feast proceeds. 

The rite for the return of a "k'la" thought to have been 
driven off by the wind is called "Ta yaw ke a k'la." A bracelet 
' ^ suspended by a string from the tip of a slender bamboo over a 
cup containing a little sticky rice and a hard-boiled egg. The elder 
strikes the cup with the stirring-stick and begs the "k'la" to come 
back out of the winds, the storm, the firmament, from near the stars 
or the moon, and eat the egg. The string supporting the bracelet is 


usually poorly spun, and the suspended object twists back and forth 
until finally the string parts, and the ornament drops into the cup. 
A person standing near claps a cloth over the receptacle to con- 
fine the "k'la." If an air-space is found at the end of the egg, 
it is a sign that the shade has returned ; if not, the experiment must 
be repeated." 

The ceremony, "Ta hpi htaw ke a k'la," is in order when a per- 
son's sickness is attributed to the detention of his '^k'la" under the 
water or in a swampy place. The auspices having shown the 
necessity for this rite and the kind of creature to be sacrificed, the 
performers of the rite throw up a little mound at the foot of the lad- 
der with a sharp bamboo stick or other implement, and set upon it in 
order bundles of glutinous rice and jars or bamboo joints of liquor. 
The victim, say a fowl, is plucked, and, after the shade has 
been attracted by making a noise, it is addressed as the great 
"k'la" : "If you have been drowned in the water or are anywhere un- 
der the mud or the ground ; if you have been led astray in the water 
or the mire," says the leader, "I beg you to come back to your pleas- 
ant dwelling, to your comfortable home. Come eat delicious pork 
and toothsome chicken. Come and partake of sweet liquor and 
white rice." The victim is struck on the head with the stirring- 
stick, killed, and the omens examined. If these prove to be favor- 
able, the fowl is cooked and the feast is held. As is usual in such 
ceremonies when the shade is believed to have returned, the wrist 
of the patient is tied with string to prevent its wandering again. A 
piece of the string, together with a morsel of the rice and meat, is 
placed on the fontanel ("hko hti") of the patient, which is con- 
sidered the seat of the **k' la." 

Prophets and Elders 

The propitiatory sacrifices discussed in the first section of this 
chapter are evidently tribal functions and are, therefore, inaugurat- 
ed by the chiefs. Formerly men called "wi," especially designated 
as prophets, were consulted to interpret the auspices. On occasion 
they went into trances in order to reveal secrets. Their ofiice in 
most of the Karen tribes was for life or while they maintained a 
good character, and it involved a knowledge of the ancient poetry of 

1* See p. 207 of Chapter XX (Funeral CuatoniB) for a Bimilar method of determininir the 
presence of the "W la" of the dead. 


Photo by Dr. BunJce 


the folk by which the traditions and customs were handed down 
from generation to generation. Among the Bwe, who seem to have 
esteemed priests more than the other tribes, there were four of 
these prophets who presided over the great sacrifice, the eldest be- 
ing regarded as high priest. When one of them died, the elders 
assembled and chose which of his sons should inherit the office. 
Then, earrings, a headband, richly ornamented clothing, and a silver- 
mounted sword were secretly prepared for the ceremony of in- 
stallation. A delegation of the elders took these gifts to the house 
of the chosen one, an elder going ahead to ascertain that he was 
at home. The party, being assured of his presence, surrounded the 
house to prevent his escape, which he must feign attempt. The 
presents were then cast before him. If he really desired to escape, 
he must do so before the house was surrounded. 

In case the elders did not find the chosen successor at home, 
they laid in wait for him either by the path approaching the house 
or within the house itself. Sometimes an elder climbed up under the 
roof, hid himself until the man returned, and then dropped the 
gifts at his feet. The appurtenances of the priestly office, having 
been presented, could not be refused." In some instances a "wi" 
was also a chief, serving thus as a leader in the tribe and in its 
magic. In any case he was a most important personage and was 
held in awe by the people.^*^ Only a few of these men now remain. 

The healing offerings dealt with in the second and third sec- 
tions of this chapter fall generally within the province of the vil- 
lage elders, or are often performed by the members of the family 
of the sick person, for almost everybody knows more or less how to 
make the offerings, though this is not so true at the present time 
as it was a generation ago. 

1* Bunker, Soo Tha, pp. 66, ft. 

^B For the "wi's" connection with magic, see p. 275. 


The Ceremonial of the Feasts 

"MU xa do" (the great "Mu xa" or king of the "Mu xa") is the 
demon most intimately connected with the affairs of men. He may 
serve as their guardian and protector if properly propitiated with 
offerings ; but he is more often feared as the author of all kinds of 
evil. Some Karens, especially in Shwegyin, regard him as a house- 
hold deity to whom the family offer their sacrifices called "ta aw 
Bgha" (to eat the "Bgha"). He is addressed as "Thi Hko Mu Xa/' 
and is evidently regarded as the lord of demons.^ In most parts of 
the Sgaw Karen country, however, the "Bgha" is mentioned as being 
distinct from "Mii xa do" and, in a special way, as the tutelary god 
of the family by whom it is reverenced and feared. It is supposed 
to subsist upon the ''k'las" or shades of the members of the 
family, if it is not provided generously with pork and chicken; 
and even then the family's immunity may not be assured. 
In their prayers and offerings the people sometimes associate the 
"T'reh t' hka" with the "Bgha," the former having, as I understand 
it, no connection with the family. Perhaps this is a precaution 
taken in the hope of appeasing whichever spirit may be responsible 
for the misfortune they are trying to alleviate. 

A veneration of ancestors is manifest all through the family 
ceremonies treated in this chapter. The ancestors are thought of 
as taking an interest, although not always a friendly one, in the 
affairs of living men. The Karen do not, however, indulge in an- 
cestor worship to the extent that the Chinese practice it. 

The family "Bghas" are said to be eternal. As new unions take 
place and households are set up generation by generation, each fam- 
ily finds itself provided with a "Bgha" of its own. But what the 
relation of the new crop of "Bghas" is to that of the preceding 
generation, no one is able to explain. 

The grandmother or the eldest female in the direct line of the 
family presides as the high priestess at the "Bgha" feast of the 

^ Dr. Wade in The Karen TheBauruB^ new ed.. Vol. I., p. 469. 



whole family. She is the "Bgha a' hko." This custom seems to 
hark back to the matriarchal stage of development among the Karen, 
as also does the fact that the groom goes to live with the bride's 
family. Why a woman should hold the place of honor at the "Bgha" 
feast has been "explained" to me in two ways, namely, (1) that a 
female was the first person to fall under the influence of "Mil kaw 
li" (Satan) in the orchard, and (2) that as the woman is the more 
susceptible to sickness, she properly has more to do with the offer- 
ings and should take the leading part in making them. The Karen 
maintain that the elders are responsible for these explanations and 
that the ceremonial of the "Bgha" feast has come down from time 

There are three kinds of "Bgha" feasts. The most familiar 
kind is that observed by the members of the immediate family when 
one of their number has fallen sick, in case divination shows that 
his illness is due to his having offended the "Bgha." In such a case 
the family must at once join in a feast. The second kind of 
feast is that observed as a preventive of possible sickness and 
as a means of keeping on good terms with the "Bgha." This is 
known as "ta aw bwaw a' tha" (eating to strengthen one's heart) . 
The third kind of feast is that participated in by all the kindred, 
when the most elaborate rites are celebrated. Such a feast is called 
"ta aw saw ke saw na." While there is a general resemblance among 
the feasts held all over the Karen country, the various tribes and 
even parts of the same tribe differ in the details of their observances. 

In the case of an illness found by divination to be due to the 
"Bgha," the ceremonial of the feast among the Sgaw Karen of the 
Tharrawaddy district and in the Pegu Hills, is as follows: After 
a pot of rice has been set on the flre to boil, a fowl is caught and 
killed, and its feathers are burned off in the fireplace. It is then 
cut up and cooked with salt and a chili and placed on the table or 
family tray. The father, mother, and children in the order of 
their ages severally partake of a morsel, after which they eat their 
meal together. If the parents of the father and mother are living, 
the feast is held in the morning ; but if they are dead, it is held in the 
afternoon. On the following morning a pig is caught, brought into 
the house, and its legs are tied together. It is then killed by 
strangulation or by wrenching the neck, care being taken not to 
break any of its bones or bruise its skin lest some of its blood should 
be spilled. The body of the pig is then run through lengthwise on 


a spit, its bristles are burned off, and it is then carried into the 
house and laid at the head of the sleeping-mats. The father and 
other members of the family touch the side of the animal with the 
tips of their fingers. In Shwegyin and Siam this rite is still ob- 
served, but in many other localities it has been discontinued. The 
pig is now ready to be cut up and cooked, after which the members 
of the family each taste of the meat in turn, avoiding eating any- 
thing from the hind-quarters that day and from the fore-quarters 
the next, in case their grandparents are living. If, however, their 
grandparents are dead, they may eat from any part of the animal. 
After having thus each taken a morsel, they complete their meal. 
If any is left after the feast, it is not uncommon nowadays for the 
family to invite in some of their neighbors to finish the remainder. 
This is contrary to the old practice among the Karen. 

In the remoter regions, where the complete ceremonial is still 
observed, its main features differ but little from those described 
above, but the details are much more fully observed, and I will, 
therefore, describe the ceremonial as it is carried out in those areas. 
The rice having first been cooked, the water from it must be poured 
into the fireplace and the pot set down in the wet ashes, while 
the chicken is caught by the wife who brings the fowl into the 
house and hands it to her husband. He holds it under his arm, 
strokes its beak toward the point, and says : "Take away sickness. 
Remove weariness and swellings. Give me life and health for a 
hundred years." Then the wife and each child in turn stroke the 
chicken's beak, while the father repeats the same prayer for each 
one. He next wrings the fowl's neck, scalds the bird in a jar of 
water, plucks its feathers and carefully puts them in a receptacle by 
the fire, and removes the intestines and places them with the feath- 
ers. The flesh is cut up, cooked, and served, each member of the 
family taking a morsel. The father now places a small quantity of 
the rice and chicken on a tray and summons "the great ancestors of 
old" to partake. Meantime, the family eat the feast, after which 
the father throws away the offering. The pig is eaten on the follow- 
ing day, but in Siam two days are allowed to elapse before this part 
of the feast is celebrated. In preparation for this event the father 
goes into the jungle after an early breakfast, taking with him one 
of his children or, if he has no child, calling some other boy to ac- 
company him. He carries a small basket and his "xeh" or sickle. 
He returns with two pieces of bamboo, each two full joints in 



length, some plantain leaves, and a pole long enough to serve as 
a spit for the pig. He cuts one of the bamboo pieces into two sec- 
tions in which to cook the rice and curry, and splits the other bam- 
boo into withes. After the rice has been cooked, the mother mixes 
a little of it with chaff, puts some of it in a small pot and a lump 
of it on top of the pot, besides sprinkling water on the fireplace. 


Later the lump of chafT and rice is used as a bait in catching the 
pig that ia to become the offering. Two withes of the outside and 
two of the inside of the bamboo are used in tying the feet of the 
animal, and one more of each kind to bind the feet together. 
Other withea are wound around the snout, one turn being passed 
through the mouth, which is thus closed securely. The pig is now 
carried into the house and laid on plantain leaves spread on the 
floor, a winnowing-tray being placed in front of it along with the 


pot of rice and chaff and a small bamboo cup ("maw"). Three 
times in succession the father touches first the pig and then the pot 
with the tips of his fingers, while addressing the "Bgha" as follows : 
"Avert all sickness from me. Let me be well and live a long life. I 
am feeding you with pork. Therefore, help me." The same petition 
is uttered as the other members of the family touch the pig in their 
turn. The father then strikes the animal three times with his 
"xeh" and stabs it thrice with a knife, but not to a greater 
depth than the width of four fingers. The killing of the pig 
is completed by binding its snout in a wet cloth to smother it and by 
wrenching its neck. The withes are now removed from its feet, and 
the carcass is carried to another part of the room and washed. 
After being laid again on the plantain leaves, an opening is made 
in its belly for the purpose of examining the gall-bladder. If this 
organ is plump, the omen is favorable and the feast may proceed. 
Otherwise, another pig must be sacrificed on the following day, and 
if necessary another, until a gall-bladder is found that meets the 
required conditions. 

A satisfactory offering having been obtained, the intestines are 
removed and the carcass is impaled lengthwise on the sharpened 
stick brought from the jungle, and the bristles are burned off at a 
new fireplace built for the feast in the inner room of the house. 
After the body is washed it is butchered : first the head and stabbed 
shoulder being cut off in one piece, then the hind leg on the same 
side, next the fore and hind legs on the other side. The carcass is 
now opened down the front and down the middle of the back, the 
side that was stabbed being first removed and prepared. The wife 
puts the currypot on to boil, while her husband €uts up the meat, 
including the heart, liver, and lungs, some of which is dropped into 
one of the bamboo joints over the top of which a plantain leaf is 
tied. The other bamboo joint is filled with rice, and both vessels 
are set over the fire and watched carefully to prevent burning. 
However, the vessels must not be removed from the fire before their 
contents are thoroughly cooked, else the offering would be offensive 
to the "Bgha." 

The rest of the pork is cooked in the currypot, which the wife 
has set on the fire. The wife must clean out the intestines, which 
she does outside the house. When she brings them in, the hus- 
band brushes off any ashes that may be on the top of the little 
pot and covers the mouth of it with a plantain leaf. He makes 


little holes in the covering and inserts short pieces of bamboo down 
into the pot obliquely, so as to hold the cover on. He then pours 
water in through these holes. He now makes a sort of standard, 
called "thi keh/' out of a strip of bamboo. The bamboo is split 
into three strips, but not entirely separated. They are bound to- 
gether at three points with withes, and then the two outer ones are 
broken between the bindings but only enough to make them stand 
out like arms akimbo. The lower ends of each of the side strips are 
bent out and then brought back and inserted in a hole* or under 
the lowest withe around the stock. This is set in the pot. What the 
significance of this is, neither my informant could tell me, nor do 
the reference books help one to find the meaning of it. 

When the food has been cooked, the husband empties the rice 
on one tray and the pork on another ; and the members of the fam- 
ily — father, mother, and the children in succession according to 
their ages — each take a morsel from both trays. Then the father 
takes a swallow from a pot containing water or liquor, being fol- 
lowed by the others in due order. He also pours out two cups of the 
liquid for the ancestors of the family and throws the rest away. He 
collects into a bundle the withes used in tying the feet of the pig and 
hangs it on the end of one of the floor joists at the rear of the 
house. Finally, he washes his hands and returns to join his family 
in finishing the feast. 

In case the grandparents are living, they are summoned to the 
"Bgha" feast and arrive on the evening preceding the event. After 
breakfast next morning the preparations are made much the same 
as described above, but include the providing of three little bamboo 
cups ("maw") and the construction of a tiny model of a house 
("hi hpo hkeh") about a foot long, which is set in front of the pig 
and in which the favorable gall-bladder of the animal is placed, 
together with its heart and the lung and kidney of the side that has 
been stabbed. The organs of the other side and any blood remaining 
in the abdominal cavity are placed on a tray. Only the flesh of the 
stabbed side is used at once. While it is cooking, the wife pounds 
some rice, moistened with a little water, until it is reduced to fine 
flour. Two of the cups are filled with a mixture of this flour, chop- 
ped pork, and a little blood, and hung over the fire to cook. The wife 
washes the intestines of the animal, while her husband arranges the 
"thi keh" as before and dishes out the food for the family. When 
all is ready each member of the household partakes of a morsel and 


sip of liquor, the grandfather and grandmother coming after the 
children. This ceremonial being completed, all eat together. In 
the afternoon the intestines are cooked and eaten. Next morning 
the husband removes the heart, lung, and kidney from the miniature 
house, cuts them up, and cooks them. These are eaten, the room is 
cleaned, the little house is thrown away, the grandparents return 
home, and the sick person for whom the feast has been held is sup- 
posed to recover. 

In some places the intestines of the pig and the blood-stained 
plantain leaves are put in a basket and hung on a tree in the jungle 
as an offering to "Thi Hko Mii Xa," the lord of the demons. 

The second kind of "Bgha" feast is not preceded by divination. 
It is held not to cure sickness in the family, but to prevent it. When 
one of the parents begins to worry lest illness may visit the family, 
the "Bgha" is feasted and venerated and the hearts of the family 
are thus strengthened, as they express it. Hence, this feast is called 
"Ta aw bwaw a' tha." The ceremonial does not differ from that 
described above. 

The third kind of feast is that in honor of the great "Bgha," 
in which all the kindred by blood participate. It is, therefore, called 
the feast of the whole family ("ta aw saw ke saw na") . The eldest 
female of the family, the grandmother if living, or if not her eldest 
daughter or granddaughter, presides as chief priestess or head of 
the "Bgha" ("Bgha a' hko"). If the feast is held annually, it 
occurs in April or May ; but the priestess may fix a time at 
her pleasure when she feels that the "Bgha" should be hon- 
ored and propitiated. Those required to attend this feast of the 
kindred are the full brothers and sisters of the priestess, her sons, 
daughters, and daughters' children ; but her husband, brothers-in- 
law, sisters-in-law, and their sons, together with her sons-in-law 
and the sons of her sons, are excluded and eat their feast with their 
own kindreds. 

The eligible members of the family having assembled, the 
grandmother holds a pair of fowls, male and female, by their heads 
and says : "O Lord of the demons, we are offering to thee the flesh 
of fowls and pigs. Free us from all illness." After wringing the 
necks of the chickens, she orders their feathers to be burned 
off preparatory to cooking them with salt and chili only. Rice is 
also cooked. These viands are set out and the priestess eats a 
morsel, followed by her sons and each of the other relatives in the 


order of their ages. They are then ready to consume the feast of 
chicken and rice. As in the case of the other ''Bgha" feasts, a repast 
of pork follows. 

A pig is caught after dark, its feet are tied together, and it is 
carried up into the house where the whole family is present. It 
is laid on a plantain leaf on the floor in front of a miniature house 
set at the head of the grandmother's sleeping-mat. Placing her 
hand on the pig, she prays: "O Great Family Spirit and Spirit of 
the jungle ('Thi Hko Mii Xa, t' re t' hka'), we are offering you the 
flesh of fowls and of a swine. Do not harm us. When our children 
go out, if they happen to come near you, let them pass unmolested." 
Then each member of the family touches the side of the pig and 
afterwards the plantain leaf. After the animal has been beaten 
with the side of an axe or back of a sickle, but not hard enough 
to kill it or break any of its bones, it is strangled by pouring water 
down its nostrils while its head is wrenched to one side. The abdo- 
men is cut open and the body smeared with the blood. The gall- 
bladder is removed, and, if it is full and round, the other internal 
organs are taken out. If the gall-bladder is flabby, they must re- 
peat the sacrifice on succeeding days until they find a pig that affords 
the favorable omen. They are then ready to transfix the carcass 
with a spit, bum off the bristles at the special fireplace in the inner 
room, cut the body in twain lengthwise, and hang the upper half 
with the head over the miniature house. The lower half and 
intestines are now cooked with salt and chilis and served. The 
grandmother takes her morsel and the rest follow her example in 
turn, while she again utters the prayer to the great family spirit, 
after which they all eat heartily. 

Next morning they cook the head and the portion that was 
hung up the day before, the shoulder of the lower side being the 
last piece to be cooked. This piece is carried into the jungle in a 
basket, where another prayer to the great "Bgha" is repeated. The 
ceremony is concluded by bringing back the shoulder, together with 
a clod of earth, giving a bit of this meat to each member of the 
family, and placing a little earth over one of the ears of each. 
In some parts of the hill-country the people place a pot of liquor 
in front of the tiny house and cook bamboo sprouts with the pork. 
After the cooking, the heart, liver, and spleen are taken out of the 
vessel and sparingly served with a little rice on three plantain 
leaves. The grandmother and the other members of the kindred 



supply themselves with pieces of plantain leaf and in turn help 
themselves from each of the three leaves while praying: "O Lord 
of the great spirits, do thou, who carest for us, prevent all sick- 
ness and sorrow from approaching us. May we be protected from 
injury by sharp sticks of bamboo and wood, by the arrows and 
spears of our enemies, and from all evil that may befall us. Wilt 
thou be our shield and defense." Through a small bamboo tube the 
grandmother-priestess drinks a little liquor from the pot, as do her 
relatives in their turn. She then points a newly sprouted plantain 
leaf at the skull of the pig, which has been hung up over her mat, 
and repeats the last prayer. Then all drink a little more of the 
liquor and are ready to follow the example of the priestess in par- 
taking of the feast. 

The earthen pot, in which the pork has been cooked, is intended 
to remind the kindred that they are children of the earth ; while the 
bamboo joints, in which some of the offerings have been prepared, 
serve to keep before their minds the temporary character of their 
bamboo houses and utensils. 

Customs Incidental to the "Bgha" feasts 

Certain customs and tabus incidental to the "Bgha" feasts 
should be noted. Unless all the members of the family are present 
at such a ceremony, except those excluded from the feast, the 
offerings are thought to be objectionable to the "Bgha." If a 
person absents himself from a feast that is being held to promote 
the recovery of a sick relative, he is suspected of desiring the con- 
tinued illness or the death of the sick one. Or his absence may be 
interpreted as an effort to bring calamity upon some member of 
the family. Such charges are made against the member of a 
family who becomes a Christian and remains away from the 
ceremony. The others allege that he no longer retains his affec- 
tion for his kindred and is willing to bring illness and disaster upon 
them by his absence, which angers the "Bgha." 

While the feasts are in progress, no stranger Is permitted to 
enter the family-room. When I first traveled in the hills, I noticed 
that as I passed through the corridor of a village-house some mem- 
ber of a family stood in the doorway of one or another of the 
family-rooms to prevent my entering. This seemed strange, in view 
of the fact that I was usually received with cordial hospitality. On 
inquiry I found that the guarding of the door was to keep me from 


unwittingly rendering their offerings futile. The advantage of the 
village guest-room then became clear to me. There I and other 
strangers could be entertained, and there the men who were ineligi- 
ble to attend the feast of the family they had married into could 
congregate and visit, while their relatives were participating in the 
"Bgha" ceremony. 

The idea of sacrifice is undoubtedly at the root of the "Bgha" 
feasts. According to the explanation of an old Karen woman, when 
one has offended the family spirit or, as the people say, has "hit the 
'Bgha' " ("pgha ba Bgha"), one has fallen on the worst possible 
fate ; for the demon will seek to devour the life principle ("k' la") 
of the unfortunate one, unless propitiated by offerings of 
chicken and pork. The "Bgha" is supposed to be satisfied 
with the "k' la" of these sacrifices, which constitute the best 
eating within the knowledge of the Karen people. Even those who 
no longer fear their "Bgha" will call in the members of their family 
and make a feast, principally on account of their own enjoyment of 
it. In such cases they add the spices for a curry, instead of cooking 
the meat with only salt and chili. The Karen, especially those of 
Shwegyin, declare that fornication, adultery, and incest anger the 
family spirits more than any other offenses. Such acts of immo- 
rality incite the "Bgha" to curse the soil, blight the crops, and send 
epidemics among the people. Once aroused, a "Bgha" will assume 
the form of a tiger or snake and wait for its victims, in order 
to destroy the "k'las" of the offenders and other inhabitants of their 
village. In case of a poor season and bad crops the elders become 
suspicious and sometimes succeed in scaring young persons into 
a confession of their secret sins. Unusual offerings are required to 
appease the offended demon, these being — ^according to one list in 
my possession — first, a buffalo, next, an ox, and finally, a chicken and 
a pig. All the family must unite in an earnest prayer that these 
offerings may prove acceptable to the "Bgha" and avert any further 
calamities from them. The great fear of blighted crops, and of 
other evils not less feared because unknown, tends to keep the 
Karen a chaste people, which they certainly are for the most part.^ 

The traditional explanation of the use of the chicken bones and 
the pig's gall-bladder in divination, and of pork and fowls in the 
family feasts, is that the chickens and pigs ate most of the frag- 
ments of the God-given book which the white brother delivered to 

See pp. 30, 139, 142, 148, 192, 225, 288. 


the Karen back in the mythological age, and which the latter care- 
lessly burned when he set fire to the brush that he had cut from his 
field. What offerings more acceptable to the "Bgha" could be made 
than the creatures that had absorbed the wisdom of the divine 
book ? ^ That the pig is regarded as a vicarious sacrifice is shown 
by the rite in which the members of the family touch the side of the 
animal, while the "Lord of the spirits" is asked to protect them from 
sickness and sorrow. However, the Karen do not charge the pig 
with a message to the great spirit, as do the Kenyah and Kayan 
tribes of Borneo ;* nor do they put their sins on the pig, as did the 
ancient Hebrews on the head of the sacrificial bullock or on the 
scapegoat." In Toungoo the dog is substituted for the pig in the 
family rites, the tradition there being that it ate some of the frag- 
ments of the book of wisdom. The Rev. E. W. Blythe is authority 
for the statement that the cat is also offered to the "Bgha" in Toun- 
goo.® The Bwe and Red Karen tribes, among whom the ox, buffalo, 
and goat are the common domestic animals, use one or another of 
these creatures, according to the manifestations obtained through 
divination.^ I am told that in Shwegyin there are some localities 
where the people do not sacrifice animals of any kind, but make 
offerings of flowers only. 

The leaves used in the feasts must be those of the wild plantain 
("ya"), which is found everywhere in the jungle throughout Bur- 
ma ; for the tradition is that it was this variety of plantain which 
"Htaw Meh Pa," the mythical ancestor of the Karen race, cut off in 
blazing the trail for his people to follow on the way to a more fruit- 
ful land.^ 

The miniature house ("hi hpo kheh") is intended as a resting- 
place for the "Bgha," when it comes to enjoy the feast provided for 
it. This tiny structure is set in the inner room where the pig is 
killed, the sacrificial fireplace built, and the feast held. This fire- 
place is a sacred family altar apart from the place where the cook- 
ing is carried on daily. The inner room affords greater privacy 
to the family during the feasts. The Pwo Karen have special trays 
and dishes for their feasts, which are kept sacredly for this purpose. 

* Colonel A. R. MacMahon, The Karens of the Gold Cheraoneee, pp. 140, ff. For the 
story of the Lost Book see p. 333. 

* Hose and MacDouRall, I'agan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. II, pp. 60, if. 
"Leviticus. 16:21-23. 

* Rev. E. W. Blythe in The Rangoon Dioceaan Quarterly, 1917, p. 9. 
^ E. O'Riley in Journal, Indian Archipelago, 1859. p. 16. 

* See ante, p. 6. 


I remember bein^ asked by a family, who had become Christians 
and were discarding the old ways, to destroy these utensils for them. 
They had not yet freed themselves of their fears sufficiently to per- 
form an act that seemed to them like desecration. 

Families who are about to adopt Burmese customs or to accept 
Christianity, generally dispose of all their pigs and fowls, with the 

} Kabzn Famu,v. Basssin 

exception of two or three of the latter and one of the former. When 
the time for a feast arrives, they make the usual preparations ; but 
before the pig is killed, one of the elders will put his hand on its 
side and inform the "Mil xa" that the family are about to make 
their last offering and beg the demons to dismiss them and allow 
them to go in peace. This rite is called "Ta aw k' tew kwi Bgha" 
literally, "eating to finish the 'Bgha'." The statement that this is 
the final offering is repeated in every address to the spirit uttered 
during the course of the feast. If the parents of the head of the 
family are living, they construct a little house and put into it oifer- 


ings of rice and meat in order to satisfy the appetite of the "Bgha." 
Families who thus terminate their relations with their special 
divinities, observe the tabu of not keeping pigs and fowls again for 
a period of three years. Not all families who become Christians 
observe this rite, for many times they make the transition by simply 
forsaking the "Bgha" once for all. 


The Sacred Mount 

In Karen lore mention is often made of the sacred mountain, 
"Thaw Thi," which was early thought to be identical with the fabu- 
lous sacred mountain of the Buddhists, "Myenmo Taung." When, 
however, Dr. Mason went to Toungoo, he found that "Thaw Thi" 
was the dominating peak of the range of hills separating the valley 
of the Sittang from that of the Salween — a peak evidently held in 
reverence by the Burmese who call it "Nattaung," that is, the 
mountain of the "nats" or demons. Of this range "Thaw Thi" is 
the most impressive peak, although it is a thousand feet lower than 
Mount "Pghaw Ghaw" four miles to the north, which rises to a 
height of 8,607 feet above sea-level and from which a wonderful 
view may be had over the surrounding hills. Of these two peaks 
"Thaw Thi" is thought to be the wife and the more important. Its 
summit is a wide clear space which, the people believe, is swept 
clean every morning by the goddess "Ta La," who has her abode 

Several traditions concerning the mountain suggest that it may 
have been a place of veneration of the people in its neighbor- 
hood. One story connects Mount "Thaw Thi" with the flood 
that submerged the world, except the ridge along the top "as much 
as a comb." ^ When the flood receded, the peacock pheasant ("pgho 
ghaw") alighted on the summit now bearing its name. Another 
legend represents "Thaw Thi" as being considered the highest moun- 
tain in the world, whose sides abound with all kinds of game, these 
creatures being constrained to render homage to this kingly moun- 
tain. Hence, all the beasts and the birds of the air, including the 
tiger, bear, crocodile, wild dog, dragon, vulture, and adjutant, as- 
cend in procession to do reverence. 

1 See p 289. 

^ Dr. Mason, who is quoted in MacMahon'a The Karens of the Gofden Chersonese, 242, ff.. 
is authority for this interpretation. A similar meaning was siven me in Toungoo, but the 
spellinfiT of the name of the bird and of the word meaning "as much as" differs a little from 
that commonly employed. These differences are probably due to local usage. 



Mount "Thaw Thi" also figures in some of the ancient folk-tales 
of the people. For example, one version of the story of the patri- 
arch "Htaw Meh Pa" locates his home there. The den of the White 
Python is still pointed out on one side of the mount. It was to this 
den, according to the tale of "Ku Law Lay" and "Naw Mii E," that 
the fabulous serpent carried off the latter, whose husband dug holes 
there in trying to rescue her. These holes are also still shown. 

When, in the middle of the nineteenth century, evangelists be- 
gan to travel in the Toungoo district they discovered that the people 
living in the villages near Mount "Thaw Thi" indulged in various 
more or less elaborate rites on the peak. They had leaders or 
prophets in each village who interpreted the signs and set the 
time for the annual pilgrimage to the summit, where they sacrificed 
pigs and buffaloes, made offerings of wood and water, and built 
cairns of stones. A recent visitor to this spot reports that the 
cairns may still be seen, as also the broken pieces of the jars and 
bottles which once held the offerings; but that the paths are now 
overgrown, inasmuch as the former ceremonies have been long 
discontinued. Only a few old men recollect the pilgrimages to 
the summit made in their boyhood days. Some of these say that 
the people ascended the mountain to await there the appearance of 
the god, "Y'wa," in order that they might commune with him;^ 
while others connect these rites with the Karen goddess, "Ta La," 
who they say dwelt there and must be propitiated at her own 
shrine. That "Y'wa" was venerated on the mountain is confirmed 
by the following poem, which Dr. Mason found in Tavoy, more than 
three hundred miles from "Thaw Thi" itself: 

" *Y'wa' will come and bring the great 'Thaw Thi*. 
We must worship, both great and small, 
The great 'Thaw Thi', created by 'Y'wa'. 
Let us ascend and worship. 
There is a great mountain in the ford. 
Can you ascend and worship 'Y'wa'? 
There is a great mountain in the way. 
Can you go up and commune with 'Y'wa'? 
You call yourselves the sons of 'Y'wa'. 
How often have you ascended to worship him? 
You claim to be the children of 'Y'wa'. 
How many times have you gone up to worship 'Y'wa'?" 

That so conspicuous a peak as Mount "Thaw Thi" should have 
been regarded as the abiding-place of the great god, "Y'wa," and 

*Rev. E. W. Blythe, of Toungoo. in The Rangoon Dioceaan Magazine, (1917) Vol. XXI. 
No. 11, pp. 98. tl. 


become an object of veneration among the Karen is not difficult to 
understand in view of the prevalence of animism among Oriental 
peoples. Other great mountains in the East have been reverenced 
by the inhabitants of the region round about. 

Religious Cults 

Like the Jews, who two thousand years ago were constantly 
expecting the Messiah and followed after those who set themselves 
up as such, the Karen seem to have been ever ready to accept the 
teachings of some self-constituted prophet. Dr. Judson met with 
a person of this sort north of Moulmein in 1832.^ The names of a 
number of these religious teachers, including a few women, are 
known. The founder of one of these cults, which attained a re- 
markable vogue and is known as the "Maw Lay," began his labors 
in the village of Pli hta, which lies about fifty miles north of 
Shwegyin, where they still point out the original pagoda and the 
huge stone steps leading up to it, reputed to have been built by the 
founder of the sect. The teaching was eclectic, as is generally true 
of other cults of this sort, embracing iii this case the "Y'wa" and 
other traditions of the Karen, together with some elements of 
Buddhism and some of Christianity. The concluding sentence of 
the myth concerning the incarnation of the reputed author of this 
religion relates that when he appeared among the white men 
he was called Jesus Christ, and that when he appeared among the 
Karen he was known as "Maw Lay." The new cult originated about 
the middle of the last century and spread rapidly into almost every 
district where the Karen are found. At one time its adherents 
seem to have numbered some thousands, and a few of them still 
remain. They have a regular form of worship, consisting of a lit- 
urgy, hymns, and offerings of food and water. 

Later movements of a similar nature, but more influenced by 
Christianity, have gained a large following chiefly among the non- 
Christian Karens, to whose national feeling the leaders have un- 
doubtedly appealed. Conspicuous among these religious leaders 
has been Ko Pisan, also later known as Ko San Ye, who came from 
Papun or Shewegyin, entered the Baptist Mission, and for some 
years at the beginning of the present century exercised a consider- 
able influence toward a real religious revival. Later he withdrew 
from his Baptist connection and started an independent Christian 
church, which has survived its founder and now has a membership 

* Dr. Francis Mason, The Karen Apoatle, p. 96. 


of between six and seven thousand persons. The future develop- 
ment of this movement will be watched with interest for, under the 
direction of a few trained preachers and others, it affords an ex- 
cellent opportunity for the Karen to show what they can accomplish 
in the way of religious progress by themselves. 

If they can maintain their ideals, administer the affairs and 
discipline of their church, and increase its membership, while con- 
tinuing friendly relations with other Christian bodies in Burma, 
they will be worthy of all praise. 

Contemporaneous with the founding of the independent church 
by Ko San Ye, a former priest of the Church of England 
started the "Hkli Bo Pa" cult in the Toungoo Hills, basing his 
preaching on a misapprehension of a passage of Scripture. He has 
instituted a form of worship with peculiar practices, has been ex- 
communicated from the Anglican body, and has since been carrying 
on his labors with only indifferent success. 


H Their Tkachkb 


The division lines between religion, magic, and science, as 
these matters appear to primitive peoples, are hard to trace. In 
truth, the three fields so overlap and interpenetrate that it is almost 
impossible to tell where one begins and the other leaves off. How- 
ever, religion for them may be defined as consisting of the socially 
recognized practices and conceptions belonging to the tribe or 
group and relating to the supernatural powers or forces. Through 
their conceptions and practices the people try to enter into relation 
with these powers for their own welfare. Magic may be defined as 
the art of influencing the action of spirits and occult powers for the 
purpose of serving private ends. This art may involve resorting to 
secret and sinister means for an anti-social purpose. As many, if 
not most, of the magical rites are concerned with matters of health, 
the realm of magic includes a portion of that of science, especially 
of medical science, which makes use of the effects of roots, herbs, 
and minerals on the human body, as well as of other treatments, 
which form the beginning of a real scientific knowledge. 

The underlying principle of Karen magic seems to be the 
"pgho," that all-pervasive impersonal power which is so potent for 
good or ill. By observing certain ceremonies and incantations the 
individual is thought to be able to induce the "pgho" to take up its 
abode in some person or object and have it accomplish the end he 
has in view. 

The belief in the power of magic doubtless grew out of inci- 
dental observation and primitive experimentation with the unseen 
forces surrounding all human life, in which coincidence of events 
was ignorantly seized upon as establishing a necessary connection 
between them. That the magical power of an alleged charm rests 
on very insecure foundations is illustrated in an experience which I 
had with a Karen, who brought me two magical stones about the 
color and size of horse-chestnuts to be tested. The Karen had 
inherited these stones, which had long been regarded in his family 
as charms against injury by weapons. He wanted me to fire my 



gun at them; but I had one of my native helpers fire the gun, in 
order to preclude the deduction on the part of the owner of the 
stones that a foreigner's handling of the gun had prevented the 
working of the charm. The discharge of the weapon knocked the 
stones to bits to the great surprise of the owner, who exclaimed 
repeatedly that the stones were worthless after all. Such de- 
cisive demonstrations of the uselessness of magic were, of course, 
lacking in the olden time, and the failure of a charm to accomplish 
what was desired could always be explained by some unfavorable 
circumstance, such as the omission of some necessary rite or the 
ill-humor of the spirit whose cooperation was necessary. It should 
be remembered also that the absence of the accustomed charm 
produces an adverse psychological effect on those depending on 
them. I am told that both Karen and Burman boys who play foot- 
ball, have a "medicine" to protect them from injury and to bring 
victory. Without this talisman, which has its counterpart in the 
mascot of some American baseball and football teams, the players 
are apt to do poorly and lose the game. In like manner a Karen, 
who attributes his indisposition to the evil influence of some one 
who is bewitching him, is likely to become worse through the power 
of suggestion; just as his fellow- villager, who has placed himself 
under the protective charms and remedies of the medicine-man, 
often derives benefit from his own faith in their efficiency. 

In some outlying Karen districts there are still persons of both 
sexes among the Karens who profess to maintain communication 
with the powers of the invisible world. Of these "wi," so-called, 
one group has dealings with the powers of evil, while the other 
looks to "Y'wa," the eternal God, for the revelation of unseen 
things. The latter group is sometimes designated leaders of reli- 
gion ("bu hko," heads of the feasts). The prophesies of the 
deliverance of the Karen from the Burman yoke and of the coming 
of the white brother were uttered by some of these "wi." The 
members of the former group are believed to be able to see into 
hell and to bring evil forces to bear on men. They go into trances 
and work themselves into a state of frenzy, writhing on the ground 
and frothing at the mouth until they have received a message. 
Then they calm down and deliver their oracle in verse. They are 
reputed to have often deceived their patrons. They are at enmity 
with the prophets of the second group. Their influence is limited 
to those of weak "so" or personal powers.^ Not only have strong- 

- See Chapter XXI on ReliRious Conceptions, p. 221. 

MAGIC 269 

willed persons been able to resist their magic, but also in some 
instances have put the magic-workers to death. These "wi" are not 
supposed to be easily persuaded into exercising their sinister influ- 
ence. It is said that they reserve their offices for the client who has 
suffered a real injury, or one whose distress is revealed by his tears, 
or one against whom seven malicious attempts have been made. 
Usually they are men of high-strung nervous temperament. Occa- 
sionally, other persons think themselves possessed of magic power 
("pgha pgho") and try to use it for good or ill in influencing their 
own or some one else's life. However, a casual practitioner of the 
art must observe proper reticence in regard to such matters, or run 
the risk of falling into disrepute or of exciting the envy of some 
more experienced "wi." Many persons living in Karen villages at 
the present time are usually spoken of not as "wi," but as "k' thi 
thra" ("medicine-teachers" or doctors) . They are very backward 
about referring to their art. 

A class of persons supposed in the early days to be gifted with 
magical powers, consisted of the orphans and other unfortunates 
who were driven from the villages and compelled to live by them- 
selves in the jungle.^ In Karen folk-lore many tales recount episodes 
in which an orphan exercises his uncanny powers, usually in de- 
fense of some weaker person whom he saves or helps to get the 
better of his foes. One such story tells of a chief whose village 
had been raided again and again. Having no orphan magician 
at hand to aid him, he was beaten every time ; while the victorious 
villages were every one of them blessed in having such a champion. 
The chief, anticipating another raid, sent his daughter away be- 
cause he had no one else to give in ransom, should he be van- 
quished again. She ran through the jungle until she fell exhausted, 
and next morning was found by an orphan, one of seven brothers, 
near whose hut she had fallen. She related her story to the aged 
grandmother of the seven, and they were so captivated by her that 
they determined to aid her father in recovering the bronze drums 
and other treasure that he had surrendered, in order to save his 
village from destruction. Before the grandmother would consent to 
her grandsons' enterprise, she required them to make a trial of 
their strength. This they did by each catching a tusker elephant 
in the jungle, grasping him by the fore and hind legs and using him 
as a huge kind of battering-ram in knocking down a clump of bam- 

< See pp. 188, 184. 


boos. Quite satisfied with this demonstration of their magic 
power, the grandmother allowed them to go on their mission. In 
the battle that followed the seven orphans severally engaged the 
champions of the seven victorious villages and won back for the 
maiden's father the treasure that he had been forced to pay over in 
the previous raids. The oldest of the brothers then received the 
hand of the chief's daughter in marriage, having cleared himself of 
the curse that had rested upon him as an orphan. 

Why such extraordinary powers have been attributed to the 
once despised orphan is not known. At first he was feared for the 
bad luck he might bring to the other inhabitants of the village, 
if allowed to remain within the stockade. That he did not perish as 
an outcast in the jungle must have been regarded as a sort of 
miracle by the village community, whose members had always lived 
and worked together in close interdependence. They must have 
looked upon him with awe and believed that he was protected 
by some powerful influence, not only from the evilly disposed "Bgha" 
but also from the dangers of the forest. It was, therefore, natural 
enough to regard him in course of time as a person who had "pgho." 
In these later days orphans appear to have been considered 
less extraordinary persons, as indicated by the following couplet: 

"In olden times the orphans had magic. 
Orphans now must talk" [like other persons]. 

The "k' thi thra" or "medicine-teachers" constitute another 
group that should be mentioned among magic-workers. It is true 
that they possess a rude knowledge of the efficacy of roots and 
herbs, but they also sometimes dispense disgusting and filthy con- 
coctions. The Karen, like other primitive peoples, regard sickness 
as due to some mysterious force or "mana" and believe that all 
medicine, even that prescribed by European physicians, operates 
to dispel or vanquish this force. They expect a dose to cure imme- 
diately and discredit a medicine that must be taken repeatedly. 
Hence, in general, they prefer their native "medicine-teacher" and 
his nostrums to the educated physician and his medicine, the thera- 
peutic effects of which are beyond their understanding. Doubtless, 
some Karens do distinguish between the charm and the drug, but 
most of them seem to cling to the idea that the drug has more or 
less of the charm connected with it. 

Magic among the Karen, as among other primitive races, is 
divisible into white and black magic. The former is the beneficent 

MAGIC 271 

kind, involving the use of certain rites, practices, and conceptions 
by which one tries to protect one's self against unknown powers and 
forces. White magic may be divided in turn into three varieties, 
namely, defensive, productive, and prognostic magic. 

As suggested by its name, defensive magic is employed to safe- 
guard one from injury and to prolong one's life. Charms are used, 
such as the wild boar's tusk without a nerve cavity, to prevent the 
possessor from being wounded by the firing of a gun or the bolt 
from a crossbow. The tusk charm is called "soh." 

The boar's tusk must be the tusk of an old and fierce animal 
(for the older the animal, the smaller the cavity), which was, 
therefore, hard to kill. This, according to Karen belief, renders 
its owner equally hard to destroy. Sometimes the tooth of an an- 
cestor is worn, in order to gain the reputed courage and strength of 
the latter. A female wears such a charm around her neck. A man 
may wear it set in a finger-ring. The latter method of wearing the 
tooth would not serve in the case of a woman or girl, for unavoid- 
ably it would be brought in contact with her skirt and that would 
be disrespectful to the dead, thus destroying the value of the charm. 
A lock of hair or the parings of nails from a corpse are also fre- 
quently worn to prolong the life of the wearer. 

A certain plant of magic power, called "k' thi baw tho" or 
"tiger medicine" is said by the Karen to confer such immunity 
upon him who uses it that he may enter a den of fierce tigers at 
any time without the least fear.* It is also reported that by bury- 
ing the root of this magic plant at the bottom of a hole seven cubits 
deep, pulling the root up with one's teeth, and jumping out — accord- 
ing to one of my informants — even when men are standing around 
the opening with sticks in their hands, one will be turned into a 
man-eating tiger and spend the remainder of his life in the jungle 
composing verses and springing down upon unwary persons. Cer- 
tainly, one who can believe that a man can leap out of so deep a hole 
and dodge the blows of his fellows at the top, will experience no 
difficulty in believing the rest of this story. 

A second form of white magic is what is defined as productive 
magic. It has to do with increasing a crop, rendering a family pros- 
perous, or adding children to the family circle. Certain plants of 
the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) growing in Burma are sup- 
posed to be endowed with the power of bringing a good crop pro- 
duction. Consequently, they are set out at the entrances of the 

* Karen Thesaurus, new ed.. Vol. I, pp. 648, IT. 


MAGIC 273 

fields. A native reported to me an example of productive magic 
in connection with the finding of a spiral coil of heavy brass wire 
by his great aunt. The coil was from four to six inches in diameter 
and was unearthed by the aunt while digging a large yam in the 
jungle. The coil was carried home, but at first brought only mis- 
fortune. However, in the full moon of "Thadingyut" (Burmese 
for October) the aunt hit upon the happy idea of offering the blood 
of a red cock to the spiral coil, and in due time the family became 
prosperous. A failure to make the annual offering was followed by 
ill-fortune. The offering must not be made by an unchaste person 
or by one who had fallen out of the house during the year. The 
coil, which sometimes assumed human form, must not be approached 
too closely. It was believed to possess the power of foretelling the 
future when it appeared in human shape. 

The red and yellow varieties of the flowering plant, cockscomb 
(AmarantiL8)y which grow abundantly in the hills, are reputed to 
have a beneficial effect on the crops. The red variety has the added 
virtue, according to various tales, of dazzling the eyes of pursuing 
spirits, which are so attracted by it that they forget any evil intent 
they may have had against persons or objects. A root taken from 
a red cockscomb found growing in a field three years after cultiva- 
tion, if bound up in the turban of a husband, will prevent the wife 
from conceiving, according to Karen lore. The opposite result is 
attained by the women of Shwegyin by wearing the bones of the 
"Ta t'hkaw hkaw" (a one-legged female demon) as a necklace. 
They buy these bones from the Brecs.' 

Black magic is bad magic or witchcraft. The Karen speak of 
it as "ta ho ta yaw" or sometimes as "ta ho ta lo," meaning to 
work evil on a person and thereby cause his death. It is difficult 
to learn very much about the practices involved in the art, for those 
who exercise it are prone to keep their methods secret, revealing 
them, if at all, to one or two intimates only and thus preventing 
their secrets from losing their potency. By blowing on a cup of 
water that is later to be handed to the intended victim, the worker 
of black magic imparts to it a baleful action that will cause him to 
sicken and die. A quid of betel blown upon in the same way may 
be thrown at the person intended to be harmed, and, if it strikes 
him, will produce the fatal result desired. Some sorcerers pretend 
to have the power of inducing a lingering disease, which after a 
year or two will terminate the life of their victims. Other methods 

^ See Chapter XXII on Supernatural and Mythical BeingB, p. 283. 



resorted to are reputed to stimulate the growth of tumors, thick 
membranes, or bones in the bowels of a person and thus effect his 
premature death. It was reported to me that one sorcerer dem- 
onstrated his destructive power by coaxing a squirrel to come near 
and hitting it with a betel quid upon which he had blown, where- 
upon the little animal fell dead. The man telling me of this experi- 
ment had not witnessed it, but learned of it from one who had. 
The practice of magic by the blowing method is attributed to a 
certain man, named Saw Hteu (a famous prophet), who was gashed 
severely by a wild boar in the chase. The prophet blew and spat 
on the wounds, which healed immediately. It was said that the 
mastery of this method could be gained only through instruction 
from its author. It is a method that can be used either for good 
or evil purposes. Those who apply it in doing harm are often called 
false prophets ("wi a' bla") and are greatly feared by those 
Karens who are still deep in ignorance and superstition. Dr. Wade 
thinks this blowing charm is of Talaign origin, which is very likely, 
for it is used by all the peoples in Burma and is probably a survival 
of the old demon-worship, which still remains powerful despite cen- 
turies of Buddhist teaching.® 

A well-known method of wrecking vengeance on an enemy, but 
one that would be used only by the most craven wizzard, is that of 
invoking the action of the skull of a corpse that had been left 
unburied. During the daytime the skull appears to be harmless 
enough; but at night, if magical lore is to be credited, it takes 
on the complete similitude of a wretched man, a kind of retributive 
agent, ready to be sent on a mission of murder. Another familiar 
method of doing evil to a person is to take a piece of his clothing, 
a lock of his hair, or even some of the dust from his foot-prints and, 
after blowing the baleful breath on whatever has been taken, to 
make a little image of him, stick a feather in the bottom of it, and 
hang it on a tree. When the wind swings this manikin to and fro, 
the mind of the person it represents will begin to give way, becom- 
ing capricious and unsettled. The imparting of bad luck is also 
accomplished by secreting a fragment of a monstrous woman's 
skirt in the pillow of the hated individual. I heard of a wife who 
did this out of spite to her husband, who had taken unto himself 
another woman. The result of her action was all that could have 
been desired, for the man finally died. 

* The Karen Thesaurus, new ed.. Vol. I, p. 445. 

MAGIC 275 

Certain stones ("ler na") and some plants of the ginger fam- 
ily ("paw na") are credited with having the ability to consume 
food. If offered raw flesh and blood, they prefer the latter. The 
owners of such specimens can cause harm to any one against whom 
they have a grudge. In case one of the "ler na" is sent to a person, 
it takes on the appearance of the owner and produces the death of 
the recipient. Such stones, according to report, are usually picked 
up in swampy places, glow in the dark, and will eat into one's flesh 
like an acid. It seems to be customary to send one of these car- 
nivorous stones to the intended victim when he is in a weakened 
condition on account of sickness. He is, therefore, in a physical 
state to experience such an hallucination as that referred to above. 

To counteract the effects of the "ler na," a medicine is com- 
pounded from the gall-bladder of one who has suffered a violent 
death and been stolen from the grave at night. The remains of 
the gall-bladder are mixed with the charred dust scraped from the 
bamboos used in piercing the corpse when it was being burned. 
These ingredients are moistened with water and shaped into a ball, 
from which the patient takes doses when he flnds the spell of the 
magic stone asserting itself. Other fragments of the medicine-ball 
are pulverized and scattered in the air about the patient. This in- 
ternal and external treatment is supposed to afford both cure and 
protection from the menace of the "ler na." ^ Another method 
(called "po") of preventing witches and wizards from working their 
evil spells, is by inserting twigs of the indigo plant in the split ends 
of three sticks, spitting on the twigs, and offering a prayer for 

Much of the magic of the Karen prophets and "medicine-teach- 
ers" is concerned with recalling the "k'las" of sick persons. The 
multitude of demons and powers by which the tribesman believes 
himself to be surrounded, renders it next to impossible for him to 
tell which of these spirits is assailing him when he falls ill. Hence 
he calls in a diviner, unless he should undertake to consult the chick- 
en bones or make marks on a bamboo, in order to determine for him- 
self the cause of his sickness. When he has learned the cause, he 
makes offerings to placate the particular spirit concerned. In case 
his recovery is not as rapid as he thinks it ought to be, he calls in 
some "wi" to find out what the matter is and what he must do. 
The "wi" who was summoned to prescribe for a sick grandmother 
some years ago, inspected the chicken bones several times and, when 

7 Dr. Wade. The Karen Themurua, new ed., Vol. I, p. 468. 


he got a satisfactory divination, placed some rice, cooked chicken, 
and liquor on a tray and drew it along the floor of the house to the 
top of the ladder at the entrance. He then ran a string from the 
tray down the ladder to the ground for the old woman's "k' la" or 
shade to come up on. The "k' la" did not return because, as the 
witch-doctor explained, it was held captive in a betel-box by some 
one. Thereupon, he asked for seven cubits of white cloth, wound it 
about himself, and lay down to sleep with a ''dah" (large knife) and 
an axe on either side of him. With the shades of these tools in 
hand his "k' la" was to go and release the shade or spirit of the 
grandmother. On awaking, the witch-doctor reported that he had 
had a hard struggle and been shot at by the man who was restrain- 
ing the old woman's spirit from returning, but that he had suc- 
ceeded in releasing it. When the doctor unwrapped ]iimself , so the 
granddaughter of the patient told me, the cloth was riddled with 
what appeared to be shot holes. The string on the ladder was 
broken, showing conclusively that the "k* la" had returned at last. 
A piece of this string was now tied around the patient's wrist to 
prevent her spirit from again escaping. Needless to say, the old 
woman recovered her health. 

A ceremony is sometimes observed among the Karen to keep 
the "k' la" of a deceased person from aimlessly wandering about and 
to beguile it into remaining with the corpse, until it shall depart to 
the king of spirits. In this ceremony the coffined body is placed in 
the center of the floor. A slender rod of bamboo is inserted in a 
hole in the coffin lid, a thread reaching from the tip of the bamboo 
to the floor. This thread has small tufts of cotton and bits of char- 
coal tied to it in alternate order throughout its length. Under the 
loose end of the thread a small cup containing a hard-boiled egg is 
placed. A silver or brass ring hangs at the end of the thread just 
over the cup. In case the thread is drawn downward with some 
force so that it vibrates or breaks, the "k' la" is supposed to have 
returned from its wanderings, otherwise not. Colonel MacMahon 
relates that he watched an experiment of this kind, but that when 
he required everybody to go a considerable distance from the cup, 
nothing happened.^ 

Among the Karen and Burmese the abdomen is held to be the 
seat of the passions and the diseases, varying moods and bodily 

^ A similar ceremony is gone through at noon of the last day of the faneral rites. See 
atite, p. 237 : Col. A. R. MacMahon, The Karens of the Golden Cheraoneaet p. 188 ; Cross, in the 
Journalf American Oriental Society, Vol. I. 

MAGIC 277 

conditions being attributed to the presence of wind ("k'li"), fire 
("me"), or water ("paw leh"). The elders assert that fifteen 
hundred cavities in the abdomen contain wind, twelve contain 
fire, and one contains water. The prevalence of wind over the 
other elements produces pride, ambition, avarice, evil desires, and 
hilarity. When fire is in the ascendancy, one is incited to envy, 
malice, hatred, and revenge. When water predominates, issuing 
from its single cavity, it disseminates peace, love, kindness, patience, 
quietness, and other allied virtues. The various qualities are inter- 
mingled in one's character in proportion to the mingling of the sev- 
eral elements.® 

Many of the charms worn by both the Karen and the Burmese 
are intended to prevent wind from gaining the ascendency in the 
abdomen. Among such charms are strings of dried berries of cer- 
tain plants, strings of coins that have been blown upon, and knotted 
cords that have been put on the wearer by elders or prophets. 

Something remains to be said about the "k' thi thras" or "medi- 
cine-teachers," who compound drugs from various roots and herbs 
with which they practice a sort of medical lore, in addition to their 
occult rites. There is no doubt but that they understand the me- 
dicinal action of certain plants. They will often point out a par- 
ticular tree with the remark that its leaves are good for fever or 
some other ailment. On my request for some prescriptions a Karen 
doctor gave me a hundred of them. Dr. Wade has collected over 
forty pages of medical formulae of various kinds, among them many 
of real value. Dr. Mason mentions the name of a small creeping 
plant (Hydrocotyle asiatica) which, if applied as a poultice in time, 
will arrest, if it does not cure, leprosy.^® How many of these Karen 
prescriptions are of Burmese, Shan, or Talign origin I am unable 
to say. I have been told several times that the Karen who still 
remain in their primitive condition, depend wholly on magic and 
offerings to cure sickness. My observation leads me to believe that 
the use of medicine increases, as the people come more and more 
into contact with other races. 

The Karen believe that smells have a marked effect on the 
body, both for good and for ill. There is hardly anything that a 
Karen or, indeed, a Burman fears so much as he does the smell of 
cooking fat ("ta neu xo"). They believe that the odor somehow 
enters the body, especially if there is an abrasion of the skin. 

* The Karen Theaaurtu, new ed.. Vol. I. p. 600. 
^^ Dr. F. Mason, British Burma, Ita PeeopU and Productions, pp. 601, fT. 


and causes all kinds of trouble, even sudden death. To avoid coming 
in contact with this smell, they usually do any frying that may be 
necessary out-of-doors and hold their hands over their noses to 
keep off the dread danger. For curative purposes smelling-salts are 
popular among both Karens and Burmans, when they can be bought 
in bazaar. Many of the medicines contain asafoetida and other 
pungent-smelling ingredients, which are thought to have an imme- 
diate effect on the patient Bitter and acrid-tasting drugs are also 
in great favor. 

Apart from such remedies the Karen "medicine-teachers" re- 
sort to disgusting concoctions of the scrapings from the horns 
of the sambur, the hair and genitals of certain animals, tigers' and 
leopards' whiskers, certain parts of human corpses, the body hair 
of human beings, dung of all kinds, the scrapings from the charred 
ends of bamboos used in piercing corpses on the funeral pyre, 
etc. The urine of one sex is sometimes prescribed as a liniment for 
persons of the opposite sex. The following is a prescription taken 
from the Karen Thesaurus, where it is described as "a grand febri- 
fuge" : "Take the umbilical cord cut from a new-bom child, the un- 
digested kernels from the dung of a dog, white and red onions, 
ginger and black pepper in equal quantities; mix thoroughly and 
make into pills the size of the end of the little finger ; dose, one at 
a time to be taken in hot water." " 

The formulae for other kinds of pills are even more disgusting 
than that just given. Draughts, lotions, liniments, smelling-com- 
pounds, liquids for bathing, hot and cold applications; herbs and 
other things to be hung over the patient, placed under his bed, or in 
an adjoining room, are among the strange mixtures that might be 
enumerated without interesting any but the curious. 

^^ The Karen Thesaurus, new ed.. Vol. I, p. 641. 


Recourse is had to the bones of the fowl for prognosticating 
the future throughout many parts of southeastern Asia. In these 
regions the chicken is indigenous, and it may be that the custom 
of examining their bones came about in a natural way, as sug- 
gested by Sir J. G. Scott.^ It would be natural for people entering 
a new country for the purpose of settling in it to take note of all 
indications as to its fertility, including the size and condition of the 
fowls. Perhaps this gives us the clue to the origin of the Karen 
practice of inspecting the holes of the thigh-bones of the fowl. The 
words designating this usage are "ka hsaw ki," which literally 
mean to break the fowl's bones. It may be that originally they actu- 
ally broke the bones and examined , their structure, strength, and 
condition to determine whether the fowls were well nourished or 
not, and that later the custom arose of inspecting only the holes 
in the bones. Why such a change should have taken place is without 
explanation, unless the people thought they had discovered a re- 
lation between the general healthiness of the bones and the pin- 
holes along their sides. 

The Karen people themselves connect the origin of this custom 
with the legends of their early golden age, before they had lost their 
book or "Mil kaw li" (Satan) had tempted their ancestors to disobey 
the eternal God, "Y'wa," and had then taught them divination. The 
story of the Lost Book is found among other peoples in this region of 
the earth and in brief is as follows: In the beginning "YVa" had 
seven sons, the eldest of whom was the Karen and the youngest, the 
white man. The father, being about to go on a journey, invited the 
Karen to accompany him ; but the latter declined on the score that 
he had his field to clear. The Burman also refused to go. However, 
each of them gave "Y'wa" a gift, the Karen presenting him with 
a bamboo trough, such as the pigs feed out of, and the Bunnan, with 
a paddle.^ The white brother was induced to accompany his father. 

1 Sir J. G. Scott, Burma, A Handbook, 399, ff. 

^ Another version of this myth says that the Karen ?ave "Y'wa" a "saw ku" or rain 
cover such as is worn when the people are transplanting rice in the rainy season. 




and, when they got to the sea, they transformed the trough into a 
boat and the paddle into a mast and sail. By these means they soon 
reached the celestial shore. While there "Y'wa" prepared three 
books : one of silver and gold for the Karen, because he was the 
oldest; one of palm-leaf for the Burman, and one of parchment 
for their white brother. These were given to the white man, and 
he accepted them, but kept the silver and gold book himself, 
sending the parchment book to the Karen by the hands of the 
Burman. The Karen was busy clearing his fields and, paying little 
attention to the book, forgot to carry it home. When he burned 
off his clearing, it was lying on a stump and was nearly destroyed. 
The pigs and chickens ate the charred remains of it.' Thus, the 
wisdom contained in the book, which the ancestors of the race sorely 
needed after sickness and trouble came upon them, was nowhere 
to be found except in the pigs, chickens, and charcoal, and it was 
to these they turned in their distress. According to the account 
contained in the "Y'wa" legend, the serpent, "Mii kaw li," was di- 
rectly responsible for leading them to these sources of wisdom.* 
Such is the mythical story of the origin of divination among the 

If one asks Karens versed in the old poems, why the people 
consult these omens, they are apt to answer by quoting the follow- 
ing lines : 

'The book of the ages was rooted by the pigs. 
At first the women neglected it. 
The men also did not look at it. 
If both men and women had studied it, 
All the world would have been happy." 

"Our book of gold that "Y'wa" gave, 
Our book of silver that he gave, 
The elders did not obey. 
Lost, it wandered to the foreigner." 

Among the forms of divination the one most in vogue is that of 
examining the chicken bones. It is used on all occasions. Nothing 
is undertaken by those retaining the old superstitions, whether of 
little consequence or great importance to them, without divination, 

* There are two accounts of the loss of the book, which are about equally common. Be- 
sides the version which says that the book was left on the stump, is another relating that the 
book was left on the floor, near the entrance to the house. Here it lay unheeded, till at last it 
fell through the cracks and was picked at by the fowls and chewed by the pigs under the house, 
beinsr finally entirely destroyed. Then, at last, the unhappy people began to feel the need of its 

* See Chapter XXI on Religious Conceptions, p. 218. 


VolihulY, TBAXSAWAPDr Eauh Hiob School 



usually by inspecting the fowl's bones and obtaining a favorable 
omen. Detailed accounts, which I have obtained of the interpreta- 
tion of the arrangement of the holes in the thigh-bones of chickens, 
show that these vary more or less. The system of readings fur- 
nished to me by an old man of the Tharrawaddy district corre- 
sponds in general with data from other Sgaw sections. According 
to this system, the left thigh-bone ("mi") represents the jungle. 
If this bone has a larger number of holes than the right thigh-bone 
or has them arranged in a certain way, the omen is unfavorable. 
That is, the "k' la" or life principle will be influenced by this read- 
ing to depart from the body of the person concerned, thus causing 
his sickness or death. If, however, the bones are being consulted 
in regard to some undertaking, the reading above indicated would 
imply that it must be postponed until a favorable omen can be had. 
The right thigh-bone ("hsa") represents the house, and, when it 
affords the favorable reading, all is well for the undertaking or the 
person concerned. The bones are held reversed at the time of 
reading, the top being called the "hkaw" (literally, the foot), the 
other end being designated the "hko" (literally, the head). The 
right ("hsa") and left ("mi") are the reverse of the diviner's right 
and left. 

ji. I 

/. X 

JI* I 


fh $ 

M s 

Jl*. i 

Chicken Bones Used in Divinations 

Six different arrangements of the holes were specified to me, 
as follows : 

(1) In this arrangement the jungle bone ("mi") has three 
holes, while the house bone ("hsa") has only one. Hence, the di- 
viner says: "Mi a, mi neu hsa," meaning that "the jungle has more 
and wins over the house. This bodes bad luck or sickness. 

(2) This arrangement is the opposite of (1) and is reported 
as "Hsa a, hsa neu mi." This reading is a prognostication of good 

(3) In this instance the bones show both a foot and a head hole 


on the right and a head but no foot hole on the left. The reading 
is "Hsaw xi wa ti htaw," and the omen is good. 

(4) In this instance both the right and left bones show a head 
hole, the explanation is "Hsaw xi wa hkwa," and the omen is fair. 

(5) The bones show foot holes on both sides, the explanation 
being "Shaw xi ku hko mi." The omen is less than fair. 

(6) In this instance the left bone shows only one hole in the 
middle, a most unfavorable omen. The reading is "Hsaw xi htaw 
deh pgha k' le." Thra Than Bya says that in case the bones have 
no holes at all it is a most unfavorable omen; for once in the 
remote past the signs read this way when a certain king was going 
to war, and the outcome of his campaign was an utter defeat. 
Hence, no one will now undertake anything, when he gets this read- 
ing of the bones.^ 

If the bones display any of the unfavorable omens, three more 
attempts are made in the hope of obtaining a better response. 
Supposing that the omen is being taken in order to ascertain the 
fate of a sick person and none of the four trials is successful, his 
relatives and friends will withhold the discouraging information, 
lest by telling it they should hasten the patient's death. I am un- 
able to give translations of most of the phrases quoted above, for 
they seem to be in archaic language not readily understood at the 
present time. I am not sure that the six readings which I have 
mentioned exhaust the list. 

Captain C. E. Poynder and Lieutenant E. W. Carrick have 
noted that in some of the Bwe and Padaung communities hairs or 
bamboo splinters are inserted in the holes of the chicken bones. 
According to Bwe practice, if these slant at the same angle the 
omen is regarded as being favorable. According to the practice 
among the Padaung people, if the inserted splinters slant upwards 
the sign is good, but if inwards it is bad.^ Before inserting the 
splinters to see whether a journey may be undertaken, the diviner 
holds the bones up before him and addresses them, saying : 

"0, you supernatural chicken bones! 
We are now planning to go and return. 
If it is right for us, 
Show us a favorable omen. 
Do not let the reply turn out bad." 

In certain localities the splinters are not inserted until the 

^ Rev. T. Than Bya, M. A. Karen Customs, Ceremonies, and Poetry, p. 42. 
* Capt. C. E. Poynder, Notes on Bwe Expedition (Government Press, Rangoon) 1894- 
95, p. 1 : Lieutenant E. W. Carrick, Notes on Report of Bwe & Padaung Countries, 1894-6, p. 11. 


bones have been spat upon, rubbed with charcoal, scraped all over 
with a sickle, and the holes cleaned out. Sometimes the wing-bones 
are used, but not so generally as the thigh-bones. 

Before preparing and eating the feasts in honor of the "Bghsi" 
as has been pointed out elsewhere,^ the gall-bladder of a pi^ is 
examined. If it is full and round, it is evident that the spirits will 
be pleased with the offering and that good fortune, health, and 
plenty will follow. This form of divination is common not only 
among the Karen, but also among the tribes of Malaysia and 

On occasions of little consequence, and perhaps more often now- 
adays than formerly, the Sgaw resort to a form of divination in 
which a number of transverse marks are made at random with a 
piece of charcoal, which has been spat upon, on a stick of wood 
or a piece of bamboo. When the space allotted has been filled up, 
the marks are counted by twos. If it appears that an even number 
of marks has been made, the affair in hand will turn out well; 
if not, the same process is gone through a second time in the hope 
of securing a different result. In case this attempt also fails, the 
project is abandoned for the present. The use of the charcoal is 
reminiscent of the charred remains of the Lost Book. 

A method that is sometimes used to discover the outcome of 
an illness may be described as follows. The diviner holds a fresh 
egg to his mouth, spits upon it, and says : "May this egg show us 
what is the cause of the illness. If due to the 'Bgha,' may the egg 
have white streaks on its yolk ; if due to the 'th' re ta hka,' may it 
have red streaks on its yolk; if due to witchcraft, may the red 
streaks be mixed with blood." After rubbing the sick person with 
the eggy the elder breaks it open in the palm of his hand and care- 
fully examines the yolk for one of the signs he has mentioned. If 
he observes any of these, he prescribes the offering to be made to 
the spirit concerned. If, however, the yolk discloses no particular 
marks, he repeats the operation and this time prays to "Pa'k' sa 
Y'wa" (Father God) to aid him: " Ta k sa Y'wa,' this man is sick. 
We do not know the reason for it. But you are in heaven and care 
for all of your children. As you have prophets, give them a word 
to say." Again the egg is rubbed over the sick person, broken open, 
and examined. A peculiar appearance of the contents, described 
to me as consisting of two points connected by fibres going around 

7 See Chapter XXIV on Feasts to the "Bgha/' pp. 251. 262. 

" For Borneo, see Hose ft MacDou^rall. The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, VoL H, 60, fl. 


the yolk, is supposed to show that a "ta na" (one of the violent evil 
demons) has caused the illness and that he will be hard to appease. 
If the streaks are black, the patient is thought to be doomed to die. 
In practicing these various forms of divination the Karen, like 
other primitive peoples, feel that they are peering into the realm 
of the unseen but powerful forces that dominate the universe. To 
the Karen the omens obtained are real revelations, without which 
they dare not venture into the future. When they fail in their 
undertakings despite favorable omens, they believe that some other 
power, opposed to the one invoked, has held sway. Their concern 
then becomes to win the favor and assistance of this more influential 
power in their next venture. 


As among the Polynesians and South Sea Islanders, so also 
among the Karen people, certain foods, animals, persons, places, 
days, names, etc., are temporarily or permanently prohibited under 
penalty of a curse falling upon those who disregard the tabu. 
Among the Karen such prohibitions ("ta dii ta htu") are most 
commonly associated with marriage, adultery, births, widows and 
orphans, portents, signs of bad luck, crops, certain domestic ani- 
mals, the "Bgha" feasts, the names of persons, high waters, and 
the gathering of herbs for dyestuffs. The people's fear of offending 
powerful spirits and thereby bringing calamity upon themselves, is 
at the root of most, if not all, of these tabus, which serve to illus- 
trate the fact that primitive man does not recognize broad prin- 
ciples of conduct, but depends on precepts covering specific 
experiences in his life. When asked why they do not do the tabued 
acts, most Karens content themselves with the reply, "Ta t' ghe ba" 
(It is not good). The observance of these prohibitions, which are 
usually accompanied by certain sacrifices or offerings, is a matter 
of custom that has descended from former generations. 

It is evident that most of the tabus are related to the domestic 
life and the occupations of the people. Only in a few instances are 
they concerned with interests distinctly tribal. It was formerly 
the custom among the Red Karen for the mothers of pro- 
spective chiefs of the tribe, and for the chiefs themselves, to abstain 
from the use of rice and liquor.^ The tabu on the eating of rice by 
these persons is difficult to explain; but we know that the Red 
Karen use rice less extensively than the inhabitants of the plains, 
yams and other roots constituting an important part of their diet. 
The suggestion has been made that the tabu on liquor drinking by 
the chiefs and their mothers, was for the purpose of promoting the 
clearness of mind so desirable in the leaders of the tribe ; but it is 
truer to say that they believe that by ascetic practices one may gain 
unusual powers — perhaps magical — either for oneself or, in the 
case of the chief, for his people. When the Red Karen chiefs ob- 

1 Upper Burma Gazetteer, Vol. I, Part II, p. 808. 



TABU 287 

served their tabus they prospered, but when they neglected them 
they suffered adversity, it is alleged. 

Marriage of a Karen with a person of another race was for- 
merly strictly forbidden. This exclusiveness kept the racial stock 
pure and unmixed. In recent times the prohibition has not been 
rigorously enforced. Hence, the barriers between the Karen on 
the one hand and the Burmese and Shan on the other have been 
somewhat weakened, betokening — it must be confessed — a moral 
looseness that was unknown before. The village elders have al- 
ways maintained that marriages outside of the tribe ("taw leu 
hko") were not good, although such unions have not been lately 
tabued. Marriages between members of the same tribe or of the 
same village, providing the parties concerned are not more closely 
related than cousins, are permitted. To marry a relative closer than 
a cousin would be incest, and all the tribes forbid such unions. On 
the day of a wedding in a village the inhabitants are forbidden to 

Adultery and fornication are under strict tabu, except in the 
Red Karen tribe,^ the belief among the other tribes being that these 
sins are offensive to the "Bgha" ^ and destroy the productiveness 
of the fields, the "Lords of the earth" withholding their favor from 
the crops when they find that such deeds have been committed. In 
making their annual feast to these deities, the Bwe tribe formerly 
required those who had been guilty of uncleanness during the year 
to confess their sins and did not permit them to come near the 
sacrificial altars. 

A number of prohibitions are connected with birth. One of 
the Sgaw precepts forbids pregnant women to eat the flesh of the 
curious monkey-tiger (Ictides ater), bitter herbs, and the long 
smooth pod called alligator's tongue. Before the men adopted the 
modern fashion of wearing their hair short, the husband of a 
woman who was with child was not permitted to trim his locks, 
for fear of shortening the life of his expected offspring. During 
the first six days following a birth the custom of the Paduang de- 
nies to the father the right of associating or even speaking with 
any one, except his own family. He alone cares for the mother and 
child during the period named.^ The purpose of thus secluding the 
father is to prevent the transmission of the danger and weakness 

^ See Dr. Mason's account in the Journal^ Asiatic Society of Bengali 1866. 

* This is true in those localities where the "Bgha" are regarded as the family penates. 
In other localities, as amonsT the Bwe, the offended powers were the "lords of the earth." 

* Lieutenant E. W. Carrick, Report on Bwe Expedition, 1894-96, p. 28. 

3 E. B. Cross. J. A. O. S. (1864) VoL IV, 293, ff. and D. C. Gilmore, Journ. Burma 


of child-bearing to other members of the village. MacMahon states 
that the Bwe husband of a newly delivered mother complies with 
the custom of cutting fresh bamboo joints, in which he draws 
and heats the water for bathing the infant, over a fire kindled by 
himself in the open. He then carries the water to his wife's room 
up a new ladder, which he has made. After his wife has washed the 
child or he himself, in case she is too weak to do so, he hangs the 
bamboo joints under the house and leaves them there for six days 
before they may be used again.'^ On the day of the birth of a child, 
or even of a domestic animal, members of the village are forbidden 
to work. This is the tabu of births ("ta dii ta ble") . 

In the early times widows and orphans, as well as persons 
found to be holding improper relations, became tabu and were ex- 
pelled from the village, in order to keep other inhabitants from 
falling under the vengeance of the evil-working demon, whose 
attention might be diverted from his first victims. The driving of 
these unfortunates into the jungle to live there by themselves, may 
be described as a kind of primitive quarantine.® Precaution of a 
different kind was at the bottom of the requirement that a visiting 
stranger should enter and leave the village-house by the same 
ladder. It was also required that the visitor must descend the 
ladder while facing inwards. Leaving the house by a different way 
from that by which one had entered, created suspicion of hostile 
intent among the inhabitants and might lead to hostilities. Like 
other neighboring peoples, the Karen observe a tabu in regard to 
women's garments, which must not come in contact with a man. 
Garments that are put out to dry must be hung away from the com- 
mon paths in some inconspicuous place. Probably this custom 
originated in the fear that the supposed weakness of woman might 
be communicated to the men. For the same reason, evidently, the 
Brec tribe prohibits married men from taking part in making the 
coffin for a woman who has died in child-birth. 

Tabus connected with portents, such as eclipses of the moon, 
earthquakes, the cries of apes, and certain strange sounds in the 
jungle, have a religious significance for the Karen and are accom- 
panied by the prohibition of work for one or more days. The wit- 
nesses of these portents are seized with fear, drop their work, and 
stand about in helplessness. This, undoubtedly, is the normal be- 
havior of primitive people under such circumstances. They as- 

'^ MacMahon, The Karens of the Golden Chersonese, p. 819. 
^ See Chapter XIV on Social Conditions, pp. 138, 184. 

TABU 289 

cribe the portent to some angry demon, who may at any moment 
impose a worse calamity upon them if they fail to observe this 
warning. The tabu of labor, until their fears have subsided, is 
clearly the precept that would suggest itself to people of deep- 
seated superstitions. According to Karen legend, the dogs that 
cause the eclipse of the moon by eating that luminary, are colder 
than water; while the one that swallows the sun, is hotter than fire. 
In order to prevent excessive heat or cold and the sickness and 
death that would follow, the people must abstain from work on the 
days when an eclipse occurs. The Karen name for the tabu of the 
eclipse is "ta dii ta yu mu ta yu la." ^ 

The portent of the earthquake is produced by the mythical 
giant, "Hsi Ghu," when the beetle that feeds on the refuse of 
human beings, tries to deceive him into believing that the human 
race has disappeared from the earth. In his wrath the giant shifts 
the planet from one shoulder to the other, and the people shout to 
him in consternation: "We are still here. We are still here." 
When, in times past, the giant caught the beetle in this trick, he 
struck it in the face, and the beetle has had a flat nose ever since. 
At the time of an earthquake the people refrain from their work 
for a day, in order to help restore the equilibrum of the planet and 
to mollify "Hsi Ghu." This practice is called the tabu of the earth- 
quake or "ta dii haw hko hu." * 

When the apes howl it is a portent that the goddess "Ta La." 
who dwells on Mount "Thaw Thi," ® one of the higher peaks of the 
mountain range separating the Toungoo district from Karenni, is 
uttering curses, which are greatly feared. In Shwegyin the people 
ascribe the falling of the leaves in the latter part of February to 
her imprecations and refrain from work for three days. They be- 
lieve that if they failed to observe this "ta dii hpa taw" (the long 
tabu), their crops would be ruined. 

The portent of strange sounds in the jungle betokens a com- 
bat between two celestial beings, one of whom, "Kwe De," hurls his 
spear at the other. The whizz of the weapon as it speeds through 
the air and its thud on striking the ground, evoke the cry, "Htaw 
law," from those who hear these startling sounds. They must stay 
at home that day, lest they should be in danger from these mythical 

^ See Chapter VII, p. 64. 

• See Chapter XXII, p. 230. 

* See Chapter XXV, p. 262. 


A number of tabus are associated with signs of bad luck. Many 
of these signs are incidental to going on journeys. For example, if 
one sneezes on rising to start on a journey, or on the way hears the 
cry of a barking deer, or sees one of these animals or a snake 
crossing his path, or hears of somebody's death, or sees a civet-cat 
near his path, he must give up his excursion until another day. 
Otherwise, he will meet with an accident, fall sick, or experience 
some misfortune in his family. It was once the custom of those 
who were setting out on a trading journey to repeat the following 
words : 

"I am going to to trade. 

O Snakes, do not cross my path. 

Barking-deer and Rabbits, do not hinder me. 

1 am going across my land and along my path. 
There are many other paths on the earth. 

O white Civet-cat, do not hinder me." 

If divination shows that one's illness is due to having taken the 
wrong road on a recent journey, that road rests under a tabu for a 
period of from four to seven days. The branch of a tree is laid 
across the forbidden trail where it leaves the main path, and no one 
will enter it until the tabu is lifted. This is called the tabu of the 
road C'ta dii kleh"). When a death occurs in a village, the death 
tabu ("ta dii ta thi ta pgha") is observed until the burial ceremonies 
are over. Children and persons of weak constitution are kept from 
witnessing the removal of a corpse from the village, inasmuch as 
their "k'las" are said to be easily enticed away by that of the dead 
person. On an elephant hunt it is forbidden to mention the name 
of the beast, lest its spirit should hear and take alarm, thus destroy- 
ing the chance of success in the chase. Instead it is called "ta hpa 
do" or "the great one." Other signs of ill luck surely bring their 
tabus. If one does not return from work on hearing the wildcat's 
cry, one will die. No one should live in a house whose owner dies, 
or by which a green pigeon flew while the house was building. 
The observance of certain tabus are regarded as conducive to 
the production of good crops or of prosperity in other forms. When 
the people have made the offering, "theh a hku," they must refrain 
from going into their fields for seven days. Otherwise, the demons 
will follow them and spoil their crops. This tabu is known as "ta dii 
hkii ta dii theh." During the dark and the full of the moon, in Feb- 
ruary and July, respectively, when people say that "it is hot," 
meaning that conditions are unfavorable, they avoid work for 

, TABU 291 

the purpose of improving the conditions and keeping their crops 
from being ruined. Failure to observe this custom brings disap- 
pointment ("f kle t htwa"), for one's labor will be worse than use- 
less. On the plains, where they prepare a dirt threshing-floor after 
the Burman style, it used to be prohibited to drive a cart across it 
or to walk on it with shoes on. In other sections, where the thresh- 
ing is done on a great mat, no one may step on it but the members 
of the family who take part in the work. The succulent shoots of 
vegetables, which are grown with the paddy, must not be cut with 
a sharp knife or other instrument, inasmuch as cutting would 
endanger the "k'la" or life principle of the paddy and scare away 
the demons that preside over the fields. Both the vegetables and 
their shoots, the latter being largely used for greens, must be 
plucked with the fingers. Another tabu prevents the eating of 
flesh during harvest-time. Any family who should transgress this 
precept would find, it is believed, that their supply of rice had 
vanished from the storage bin. 

The following examples of tabus relating to domestic animals 
may be cited. If a sow or bitch has a litter composed only of fe- 
males, they must all be killed. When less than three chicks are 
hatched from a nest of eggs, they must be killed. So also must the 
chick whose down dries fast to the feathers of the mother hen. 
A crowing hen is likewise doomed to death. These phenomena are 
supposed to be signs of weakness in the creatures concerned, for 
which some offended demon is responsible. Such weakness must 
not be allowed to spread. 

Certain tabus contribute to preserve the integrity of the fam- 
ily through the female line. One of these prevents any outsider 
from entering a house where the family is celebrating the "Bgha" 
feasts. Indeed, a tabu debars from such gatherings the men who 
have married into the family, while those who are privileged to 
attend must remain in the house during the performance of the 

On the plains, where the Karen villagers build separate houses 
after the manner of the Burmans, persons are forbidden to drive 
their carts through the village road close enough to the houses to 
bump against the supporting posts. This tabu, which, in the eyes of 
a Westerner, partakes of the nature of a town ordinance, is en- 
forced upon the offender by the imposing of a fine, namely, four 
annas in money or a fowl, payable to the heads of the household con- 


cemed. In the hills the money is put in a hole in the bamboo ladder 
leading into the house or, in lieu of a money payment, the fowl is 
hung under the house. Some persons, who have received the fine 
in the latter form, have shown a prejudice against eating it. I have 
been told that the British Government officials have upheld this 
tabu, when the collection of the fine has been resisted by the offend- 
ing party. 

Perhaps there is no more widespread tabu among the Karen 
people than that of personal names.^® I have known some individuals 
for years without knowing their names and have used the common 
expedient of calling them by the name of their eldest son. A man 
who served as our cook for years in the Baptist school at Tharra- 
waddy I knew only as "Ba Gyaw's father ;" although I did finally 
discover his own personal name. For a boy to mention his father's 
name is almost equivalent, according to Karen ideas, to the son's 
wishing his parent's death; for the spirits, learning the latter's 
identity, might destroy him. Instead of speaking of his wife, a man 
will talk of the mother of his children, or of his oldest child 
whose name he may think it safe to mention. Not long ago a young 
man of good education, who was engaged in filling his blank applica- 
tion for a marriage certificate, was confronted with the fact that he 
was unable to give his mother's name. Not infrequently parents 
bestow opprobrious names on their children, in order to deceive the 
demons into thinking them too unworthy to be molested. 

During the month of July, when the streams are in flood, the 
people observe the tabu of the rising and falling of the waters ("ta 
dii ta htaw ta law"). They refrain from labor, make an offer- 
ing of a fowl all of one color on the path near a stream, and utter 
the following prayer: "0 Lord of the great water and the small 
water, of the oceans and the lakes. We are offering you a large 
sweet fowl and sweet rice. Flow in your own banks as usual, so 
that we shall not be drowned or fall into the water to be devoured 
by crocodiles and dragons. Watch over us on our journeys, eat 
our offerings, and do not molest us." They then examine the fowl's 
bones and the gall-bladder of a pig, and, if the omens are favorable, 
they swim the stream three times. In case no mishap occurs, they 
believe that their offerings have been acceptable and that they will 
prosper. If the omens are not propitious the first time, they try 

1" See Chapter XVIII on Birth Customs and Childhood, p. 170. 

A CauBTiAN Kasbn Viu^qe School. THAaaAWADDr Dutrict 
A Dumber of Burman boyi from nefsbborini viUaen mttcnd thii scl 
in (dditlon to th« Kskd ehildnn. 


a second time and if necessary a third, in order to obtain a favor- 
able response. 

The Karen esteem the gall-bladder of a certain variety of fish 
as a valuable medicine, but assert that during the early days of 
August this medicinal organ becomes enlarged and ''hot" (that is, 
flabby). They, therefore, consider it necessary to desist from 
work, in order to restore the gall-bladder to its normal condition and 
efficacy. During the other months this medicine is thought to be 
strong and useful in certain severe illnesses. 

The time for gathering the herbs of which dyestuff s are made, 
is determined by divination. If, however, some one happens to 
pick them on a day found to be unfavorable, he becomes subject 
to a tabu, lest colds and coughs should spread throughout the village. 
To prevent this epidemic, the erring person must cut a sheaf of 
tall grass and set it up in the ashes of his fireplace, and when the 
other villagers come in they must spit on it. An elder then 
takes up the grass, saying: ''May all coughs and colds be prevented. 
May we not catch them." Next, he leads the people out into a field, 
where he plies their heads and the stumps in the field with the sheaf 
until it is broken, meantime calling out: "Beat here. Beat there. 
Beat the tails of the demons and woodpeckers. Do not bring us 
illnesses, coughs, or colds." When he has finished, he leaves the 
frayed grass against a stump, and they all return to their houses. 
Finally, the elder asks in a loud voice : "Is every one well ?" and they 
all shout back : "All are well." This is repeated three times, after 
which they all shut their doors and refrain from work during the 
rest of the day. 

While all of these numerous tabus have helped to nourish the 
ancient superstitions of the Karen, it is well to remember that 
some of them, in the absence of other social and moral sanctions, 
have exercised a beneficial influence. Among the latter are 
the tabus against marriage outside of the tribe, and especially out- 
side of the race. These tabus have been instrumental in maintain- 
ing the integrity of the various tribes and of the people as a whole, 
and in enabling the Karen to live largely apart from the corrupting 
influences of neighboring peoples. . Other tabus have served to 
magnify the importance of the religious rites and to enforce a 
stricter morality than prevails among some primitive races. It is 
obvious that these benefits have been secured at a great economic 
cost, when one considers the large number of holidays which falls 

TABU 295 

to the lot of the conscientious Karen. These holidays, however, 
have contributed in no small degree to sociability among the people, 
for they could spend them only in sitting at home in conversation 
and gossip with their friends over the hospitable betel-box. The 
rapid progress of the race in recent times has been accomplished 
by the breaking down of the validity of these tabus — a thing that is 
to be commended. Nevertheless, the civilizing agencies will have 
failed of performing an essential service, if they do not succeed in 
speedily creating a healthy public opinion and new social and re- 
ligious sanctions in their place, in order to overcome the present 
tendency towards moral slackness. 

The other ii tl 


If one were planning to start a movement to transform the life 
and religion of a race, one would not be expected to choose a savage 
bandit — ^a cutthroat who had taken part in the murder of at least 
thirty persons — ^to promote his enterprise. But such was the 
first Karen, under the providence of God, whom Dr. Adoniram Jud- 
son, the founder of the American Baptist Mission, undertook to 
teach.^ Dr. Judson purchased this man, Ko Tha Byu, who was 
about to be sold into slavery in payment for a debt, in the hope of 
gaining access to the Karen, of whom he had hitherto had only 
fleeting glimpses. Notwithstanding the fact that the bandit was 
then in middle life, seemed to be hopelessly stupid, and yielded at 
times to his diabolical temper. Dr. Judson was rewarded for his 
months of patient effort in trying to teach this most unpromising 
pupil by seeing his nc^ind begin to open. Ko Tha Byu became eager 
to learn and gained the ability to read the Burmese Bible. His whole 
life underwent a gradual transformation. When the Rev. George D. 
Boardman went to Tavoy for the purpose of establishing a mission 
station, he took Dr. Judson's pupil with him and baptized him there 
on May 16, 1828. In this obscure way was begun the movement that 
has resulted in the remarkable growth of Christianity among the 
Karen can, therefore, be regarded as complete, which does not con- 
tian missions during the last hundred years. No account of the 
Karen can, therefore, be regarded as complete which does not con- 
tain some mention of the widespread influence of the Christian 
religion among them, raising them from a humble position to one 
of importance and transforming them to such an extent as to cause 
their Burman neighbors to marvel greatly at the change. 

^ The Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D., was the first missionary of the American Baptut 
Foreign Mission Society. He landed in Burma, July 18, 1813, and beyan his labors tanoug the 
Burmese under sn'eat difliculties. His zeal as a Christian apostle, his remarkable linguistic at- 
tainments, and the terrible imprisonments he endured, have given him a place among the fore- 
most missionaries of modem times. While he always maintained a friendly and helpful attitude 
toward the Karen people, he devoted himself almost entirely to the Burmese. His compilation 
of the Burmese grammar and dictionary and his translation of the whole Bible into Bunnese, 
are among his great contributions to the Christianising of the country. 


.^ — ^1 


Immediately after his baptism, Eo Tha Byu set out for the 
Karen villages in the hills. He was shortly to confirm a tradition, 
then current among the people, to the effect that one day their long 
absent "white brother" would return to them from across the great 
waters, bringing the Lost Book which they had looked for with 
unabated expectation.^ His message of good news was received with 
wonder and surprise by the elders in the jungles. Delegations ac- 
companied him to Tavoy to see the "white brother" and listen to 
his teaching. Among those who came was a prophet, who a few 
years before had bought from a white sailor in Tavoy a book that 
he had since regarded as a fetish. On examination this book 
proved to be a Book of Common Prayer ; but the elders accepted the 
message of their white brother, Mr. Boardman, as the fulfilment of 
their own prophesies, and a number of them were soon baptized. 
They wished to learn to read, and Ko Tha Byu became their teacher. 
Later he traveled in the Moulmein district, and it was there in 1832 
that Dr. Wade, while engaged in reducing the Karen language to 
writing, first learned to his great surprise that the old poems of 
the Karen contained the "Y'wa" tradition.* 

In 1833 Ko Tha Bjoi removed to Rangoon to carry the good 
news to his countrymen in the Burmese territory of Pegu. By the 
end of the first rainy season the report had spread throughout the 
jungles of this region, and groups of Karens came in from a wide 
area, some to learn more about the mission of the white brother and 
others to receive immediate baptism and admission into the Chris- 
tian Church. The movement grew apace and attracted the atten- 
tion of the Burmese authorities, who forbade the Karen to come to 
Rangoon and imprisoned those whom they caught, among these 
being the influential young chief of Bassein, Ko Shwe Waing, who 
was only released through the good offices of the English resident, 
Mr. Edwards.'* 

Determined to carry back to his people a few copies of certain 
religious books which had been prepared for the Karen, the young 
chief succeeded in smuggling them out of Rangoon. He traveled 

by unfrequented jungle trails and, on reaching home, hid the books 

' The Karen Apostle, or Memoir of Ko Tha Byu, by Dr. Mason, srives an interestinsr ac- 
count of this first Karen convert. Unfortunately this book is now out of print. 

* Letter of the Rev. George Dana Boardman in the Misaionary Magazine, Boston, Mass., 
Jan., 1830. p. 22. 

* Journal of the Rev. Jonathan Wade, Mistionary Magazine, May, 1888, pp. 196, ff. 
^ Rev. T. Than Bya, The Karens and Their Progress, p. 21. 


in a bundle of old clothes. Long after nightfall, stealthily by ones 
and twos, men and women came to his house. Guards were posted 
outside of the village, and the bundle was brought out and un- 
wrapped until, by the dim light of a wick burning in an earthen cup 
filled with oil, the books were disclosed, including a Bible that 
was regarded as the now recovered Lost Book. At the sight of 
this unspeakable treasure some of those present bowed down and 
worshiped, others wept, some touched and caressed the sacred book, 
some kissed it, and some gazed long and curiously at its title. They 
crowded around the volume so thickly that the chief lifted it high 
above his head, in order that all might see, and all gazed at it with 
bated breath. They had been permitted to witness the return of 
their book, and they believed that they were no longer to be mem- 
bers of a despised nation.^ 

The years just preceding the annexation of Pegu by the British 
Empire, were hard ones for the Karen Christians. Their faith was 
severely tested by persecutions. Thra Klaw Meh, pastor of a Bas- 
sein church, and the converts of his village were imprisoned for 
their acceptance of the new religion. Their friends collected a 
handsome sum for their ransom, and all but the pastor were re- 
leased. He was ordered to give up preaching, but, refusing to do so, 
was subjected to torture for days and finally was disemboweled and 
shot. Others were much persecuted, many suffering martyrdom 
both before and after the Second Burmese War.^ Until Pegu was 
annexed by the British Government in 1853, no missionaries were 
allowed to remain permanently in Lower Burma. Hitherto the 
work for Bassein had been directed by the Rev. E. A. Abbott and 
his associates from Sandoway, in Arracan, and that for Rangoon 
and vicinity had been supervised from Moulmein. But as soon as 
the country was opened to resident missionaries. Dr. J. H. Vinton 
removed to Rangoon and established the headquarters of the mis- 
sion there, near Mission Road, where his descendants are still super- 
vising the activities of some ten thousand Karen Christians. The 
Rev. E. A. Abbott removed to Bassein and put the mission work of 
that district on a permanent and self-supporting basis. He has 

^ Thra Than Bya, then a little boy, went with his mother to see the Book on this notable 

'^ In the Rangoon district Thra Nsr Lay escaped martyrdom only through the accession of 
a new governor, whose first official act was to release him on the eve of his execution day. 
However, persecution did not deter such men or their descendants from becoming preachers. 
Both Thra Klaw Meh and Thra Nk Lay have had sons in the ministry, and their grandsons 
have since been in the Theolof^ical Seminary at Rangoon, preparing for the same calling. 




been succeeded by several able missionaries, including Dr. C. A. 
Nichols, the present superintendent, under whose direction certain 
industries have been started, including a saw-mill, a rice-mill, and a 
launch-building plant. Twelve other important centers for work 
among the Karen were established by the American Baptist Mis- 
sion. The founding and conduct of churches and schools have been 
carried on in and from all of these centers. In 1853 Dr. Francis 
Mason finished his admirable version of the Bible in Sgaw Karen. 
Meantime, Dr. Jonathan Wade was engaged in preparing diction- 
aries and a grammar of the Sgaw and Pwo dialects. The Bible was 
also translated into Pwo Karen by the Rev. D. L. Brayton. A 
Karen Theological Seminary was organized by the Rev. J. G. Bin- 
ney in 1845 at Moulmein. This institution was later removed to 
Rangoon and still later to its present location in Insein, where the 
Rev. D. A. W. Smith, D.D., served for many years as its president. 
The Baptist college at Rangoon, now called Judson College, has 
served the Karen young people, both men and women, since its 
organization in 1875. 

Careful statistics do not appear to have been kept during the 
early years of the Baptist Mission, and it is, therefore, difficult to 
discover how many of the Karen became Christians. In 1856 eleven 
thousand, eight hundred and seventy-eight communicants were re- 
ported, but this number includes many estimated returns. From 
that time on there has been an almost steady increase in the mem- 
bership of the Baptist Mission, which numbered in 1919 fifty-five 
thousand, three hundred and fifty-three communicants enrolled in 
Karen churches, representing a nominal Christian community of 
two hundred thousand souls.^ In this same year there were nine- 
teen thousand, four hundred and twenty pupils in the Karen mission 
schools, including both the Anglo-vernacular and the village-ver- 
nacular schools, the converts contributing 375,426 rupees or $125,- 
142 toward the maintenance of these. Not only do the Karen 
Christians contribute to the support of their schools, but also to 
that of their churches and pastors. For this purpose they expended 
38,596 rupees or $12,856 in 1919. In the same year they gave to 
benevolences outside of their own fields 152,203 rupees ($50,734) 
for home and foreign missionary work and 184,627 rupees ($61,532), 
making a total of 375,426 rupees or $125,122 for all purposes. 

^ AnnueU Report^ American Baptist Foreisrn Mission Society, 1919, p. 196. 


Apart from the generous sums of money which the Karen 
Christians give, many of the men who have been trained in the 
schools have manifested the spirit of self-sacrifice by going out to 
the more distant tribes and some even into China, despite their small 
pay, in order to carry the Gospel and its civilizing influence to the 
people in those regions. 

The Roman Catholic Mission began its labors among the Karen 
in the forties of the last century at Myaungmya, near Twante, in 
Palaw township, Mergul district, and at Bassein. About two 
thousand persons were baptized. It was not, however, until the 
arrival of Bishop Biganget that the work of converting the Karen 
was undertaken in earnest, and it has been continued ever since. 
In 1919 there were seventeen stations under the charge of resident 
priests and approximately twenty-five thousand, three hundred and 
fifty converts, including infants.® At many of these stations schools 
are conducted, which together enroll a large number of Karen chil- 

The Church of England Society for the Propagation of the 
Gospel entered the field at Toungoo in 1871, taking over some three 
thousand members of the Baptist Mission. The work has been 
carried on from that city, where two separate missions are main- 
tained. Early in 1919 the Anglican Bishop of Rangoon wrote that 
"the total number of Christian people (in the Toungoo region) is 
about five thousand. Of these sixteen hundred are communicants. 
About six hundred are under instruction with a view to baptism. 
The Karens contributed about £250 to the funds of the two missions 
during the year." ^^ About fifty boys and the same number of girls 
are boarders in the Toungoo schools. The number of pupils in 
village schools is not available. 

While the figures given above supply a certain index to the 
success of the missions among the Karen people, it must be re- 
membered that they do not illuminate particular features that have 
become an important part of modem mission work. The most 
significant of these features are the education of the children, the 
training of the men to become intelligent leaders in their communi- 
ties, and the inculcation among the women of better ideals as home- 
keepers, all contributing to the elevation of the people. If these 
results are not measurably attained by the mission work at the 

* Notes on the Roman Catholic Mission in South Burma by the secretary of the Diocese, 
dated Moulmein, March 8, 1919. 

^^ Letter of the Bishop of Rangoon, dated Rangoon, February 12, 1919. 



i«re ore more than ■ thousand village chspele in Karen villaga 
raushaut Buma. built entirely b; the vlllasKn themHlva. 


or THE f 




cost of thi. bui 

ontributfd by the 

ar«Ti Chris Nans 

f the diat 



present time, it is regarded as falling short of its proper aims. 
When the people have realized sufficient growth and stability in 
Christian character and have gained the breadth of vision to enable 
them to assume leadership in their religious affairs, it will be 
time for the white teachers to allow them to undertake the respon- 
sibility. In the past it has been too much the custom to place undue 
emphasis on creed and dogma. The development of character 
through Christian experience is the primary object to be attained, 
and without the formation of admirable character no abiding re- 
sult can be achieved. The Baptist Mission — I can not speak for the 
others, although they may maintain similar ideals — demands total 
abstinence and the surrender of all animistic religious practices as 
prerequisites for church-membership. The Baptist denomination 
is convinced that these requirements have been the means of social 
and economic progress, although the enforcement of them has tended 
to limit the growth in numbers. No doubt, much may still be done in 
the way of character-building among the members of the churches ; 
but when we consider the environment of the people and the fact 
that they have had less than a century of Christian development, 
may we not say that they have made remarkable progress. 


Although the Karen tribes have probably lived in Burma and 
Siam for more than a thousand years, in company with the Bur- 
mese, Shan, Siamese, dnd Chin, occupying no territory that they 
did not share with other people except the hills of Toungoo and 
Karenni, they have remained curiously isolated. Politically sub- 
ordinate to the ruling races in the countries in which they had 
settled, except in the last named localities, they were subjected 
to oppression and exploitation, which they could resent only to the 
extent of local raids against poorly defended villages or of occasional 
assaults upon stray foes caught in the lonely jungle or in outlying 
districts. The inevitable result of these conditions was mutual 
hatred of the races, which was intensified on the side of the Bur- 
mese by their feeling of contempt for the subject race; while 
the enforced clannishness of the Karens drew sustenance from 
the conviction that their "golden age" lay in the past, and that 
the customs and precepts which they had inherited from the match- 
less elders of that age were not to be changed. There was nothing 
in the religion or life of the Burmese that appealed to the Karen, 
even if it had been offered to them — certainly nothing from which 
they could expect any amelioration of their condition. Progress 
was almost impossible to people so situated, who could only look 
vaguely into the future for the deliverer, the "white brother,^' 
whose coming was foretold in their traditions. 

The acquisition by the British East India Company in 1827 of 
the provinces of Arracan and Tenasserim, on the western and south- 
em coasts of Burma, respectively, made little impression on the 
Karen at the time, although it was the beginning of a new era in 
their history and that of Burma — one in which the ideals of justice 
and fair play were to become increasingly operative. Christian 
missionaries were beginning their labors in the country at the same 
time, thus making possible the spiritual emancipation to which the 
Karen had looked forward. The significance of these events lay 
in a double revelation, which the missionaries first imparted. 



Scmoolchls at CALi8THeN:cs, THAiaAWADOy Kabek Hioh School 

Tfaia Khool of ■ 


That the Karen were eager for a change of administration is 
shown by several circumstances. In the first expedition of the 
English forces against Ava in 1826 they served as guides and were 
commended for their good faith by Major Snodgrass.^ In the prov- 
inces that fell under British control they found themselves sympa- 
thetically dealt with and soon began to take on new ways; but in 
the province of Pegu, where the old regime of Ava still held sway, 
they continued to suffer from oppression. They were prohibited 
from visiting their teachers in Rangoon, and the Burmese viceroy 
of the city threatened, even as late as 1851, to shoot instantly the 
first Karen whom he should find capable of reading.'* In the Second 
Burmese War (1852) they are reputed to have again acted as guides 
to the attacking force, which took the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the 
most formidable military work near Rangoon, by assault in the 
rear .3 The Burmese knew that the Karen regarded the English 
as their deliverers and took vengeance on them accordingly, burn- 
ing all their villages within fifty miles of Rangoon, seizing or de- 
stroying their stores of rice, and putting men, women, and children 
to death in barbarous ways.* No wonder that a large number of 
the oppressed and persecuted people migrated from the delta of the 
Irrawaddy to Moulmein, or across the Arracean hills into those 
provinces where they could dwell in security. Even under British 
rule conditions were not what they might have been, for there were 
frequent miscarriages of justice on account of the employment of 
Burmese officers in subordinate and local positions.'' 

Nevertheless, the new order of things in Burma has brought 
progress in many respects. The continual raids and forays, which 
previously devastated numerous Karen villages, have been stopped. 
The administration of justice has been taken out of the hands of 
private individuals and placed in those of accredited officials. 
Marked progress in education has been made. A new literature in 
the vernacular has come into circulation. Christianity has made 
a strong appeal to the Karen. Finally, in the -World War the people 
again showed their loyalty to the British Empire by offering their 
services in its defense. Such of these topics as have not been 

^Major Snodgrass, Narrative of the Burmese War^ pp. 140, 142. 

" Calista V. Luther, The Vintons and the Karens, p. 80. 

' I have repeatedly heard the fltatement that Karens served as guides in this war. but I 
can not verify it by reference to any work at hand. 

* Calista V. Luther, The Vintonn and the Karens, pp. 89. 90. 92, n. 

'^ For instances of miscarriage of justice, see Mason, Burnuh PP* 610-618 ; Smeaton. The 
T^oyal Karens of Burma. I regret that similar instances are not hard to find, even at the 
present day. 


treated elsewhere in this volume will be briefly discussed in the 
following paragraphs. 

The cessation of open hostilities between the Karen and the 
Burmese has largely mitigated the old animosity existing between 
them. Where members of the two races live in close proximity, 
however, some friction is stiD produced. Nevertheless, the Karen's 
dislike of their neighbors is not so great as to prevent many of 
those living on the plains from adopting Burmese ways and speech. 
They do this not out of admiration for things Burmese, but because 
of the prevalence of Burmese culture and in order to avoid the ap- 
pearance of rusticity that marks those who fail to conform. Some 
not only wear the dress of the Burmese and speak their language 
— always with more or less of an accent — but also, except the Chris- 
tians, go to the pagodas and participate in Burmese feasts. A num- 
ber of wealthy Karens, who have moved into the larger Burmese 
towns along the railway line and live there in Burmese style, have 
to all appearances lost their racial identity. In many cases those 
who have copied the manners of their neighbors, experience a decid- 
ed weakening of their old religious faith and its moral restraints, 
being led into evil ways by Burmans of the less respectable classes, 
with whom they fraternize. 

The first experiment of the British in the administration of 
justice among the Karen, was not successful. It consisted in ap- 
pointing certain influential Karen chiefs to serve as magistrates for 
their people. This plan was unsatisfactory because some of the 
appointees were reluctant to assume authority, and also because the 
different tribes were much intermingled. It was, therefore, de- 
cided to try the cases of Karens, like those of the members of the 
other races, in the ordinary courts. While this method is correct 
in principle and an improvement in practice, it has not always been 
administered by representatives of the English nation or in the 
spirit of British justice. A closer supervision of the courts is need- 
ed to curb the prejudices sometimes manifested by the local mag- 

The progress of the Karen in education has been very marked. 
Their "Lost Book" having been restored to them by their "white 
brother" in the person of the Christian missionary, they have been 
most eager to learn to read it. This has been true from the early 
years of missionary activity. Before the British had established 
orderly government in Burma, one American missionary had pupils 
in her school in Moulmein almost every year who came over two 


A Kaikn TEArHKS AND Lahu Boys 
,11 In the long gBrment i> n Sgsw Kar«D. who is 
arr in Ihe North Shnn Stst« UDons tEie Lah 
He hu brought Ihr» pupib to Lower Bumi 
with him. 


hundred miles through the jungles by night, "not daring to travel 
by day," for the sake of learning to read the Bible in their own 
tongue.* The number of mission and Government schools began to 
increase rapidly, being scattered in all parts of the country. Every 
Christian church had its accompanying school, and in recent years 
many, if not most, of the non-Christian villages have come to have 
their schools also. The early Christian teachers, realizing the dan- 
gers lurking in the new conditions, began aright by teaching self- 
control, as well as the usual subjects, infusing the whole educa- 
tional movement with moral purpose. The result has been more 
than gratifying. "It is not often given," says Mr. D. M. Smeaton, 
late Chief Commissioner of Burma, "to witness such a remarkable 
development of national character as has taken place among the 
Karens under the influence of Christianity and good government." 
Another observer adds: "Where only a few years ago were tribal 
wars, child-stealing, house-burning, and savagery, now are quiet, 
orderly villages, each with its preacher and teacher, chapel and 
school." ' 

The Fifth Quinquennial Report on Public Education in Burma, 
covering the years 1913-1917, inclusive, gives the number of Karen 
children in school as 34,896, an increase of twenty-five percent over 
the total for the previous five-year period. This number is about 
three percent of the total Karen population. The figures for the 
Burmese are not given. Judging, however, from the number of 
Buddhist school children, which is 531,541 and includes the children 
of some Karens and most of the Shan, while excluding those of a 
few Burmans, the Burmese have under six percent of their popu- 
lation in school. The Shan have 5,730 school children, or about one- 
half of one percent of their population.® 

From their village school the children, boys and girls, go to the 
mission boarding-school at the district or mission headquarters 
or to some neighboring Government school, where they learn 
English and, if they progress so far, prepare for college. A con- 
siderable number of Karen young men and a few young women are 
college graduates and are leading useful lives in various communi- 
ties, as may be seen by looking over the list of officers in Govern- 
ment positions in the Education, Forest, Police, Military, and sub- 
ordinate branches ; while others are doing well in business and the 

" Calista V. Luther, Tk€ Vintona and ths Karens, pp. 82, 88. 
^ H. P. Cochrane, Among the Burmans, pp. 278, 279. 

' Fifth Quinquennial Report on Public Education in Burma (for the years 1912-18 to 
1916-17). p. 28. 


professions. Perhaps the most prominent Karen, the Hon. Dr. San 
C. Po, is a physician, graduate of an American medical college, who 
has served for several years in the Legislative Council of the 
province of Burma, being the first member of his race to be thus 

With the progress of Christianity and education has come liter- 
ature. As soon as the Karen language had been reduced to writing, 
the missionaries began to prepare books for the people. In this 
work they have been assisted by a number of educated Karens. 
Thus far these translators have provided in the vernacular the 
Bible, a few plays of Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, the Arabian 
Nights, and short stories and pamphlets in large number. Dr. 
Wade, with the aid of Saw Kau Too, has compiled The Karen The- 
saunis, a vernacular encyclopedic dictionary of language and cus- 
toms in four volumes, which is a work of great value. Christian 
literature, in the form of commentaries and text-books of various 
kinds, has been largely supplied by Dr. E. B. Cross, Dr. D. A. W. 
Smith, and the Rev. T. Than Bya, D.D. An admirable collection of 
hymns has been brought together, including both some of the Eng- 
lish favorites and some original h3rmns composed by Karens as well 
as by missionaries. The largest number in the collection by one 
writer is by Mrs. J. H. Vinton. Of the seven or eight vernacular 
newspapers and monthly periodicals all but one or two are under 
native management. The "Dawkula'' (Karen National News) is a 
biweekly, the others being monthlies, of which the Karen Morning 
Star, founded by Dr. Francis Mason at Tavoy in 1841, has had a 
continuous existence and is the oldest vernacular periodical in 
southeastern Asia. 

The American Baptist Mission Press at Rangoon has been from 
its establishment the headquarters for Karen printing. Karen type 
were first manufactured here and the first pages struck off in the 
new characters. Here also the linotype machine has been adapted 
to vernacular use. Other Karen presses are in operation at Bassein 
and Toungoo. 

At the time of the Third Burmese War (1885), when the Karen 
were suffering from brigandage which threatened to devastate the 
whole country, certain leaders of the race began a movement to 
develop a national spirit among the people, who had always been 
clannish and provincial. Some progress was made immediately 
after the war through the formation of Karen levies, without which 
the province could scarcely have been brought back to a state of 


good order. At length the Karen National Association ("Daw k' 
lu," meaning literally "the whole race") was organized. All the 
districts in which the Karen live were represented at its first meet- 

n the Kami batUlior 

ing, a few non-Christians attending, although the leaders were 
Christians. The aim of the association was simply to promote the 
economic and educational interests of the people, as well as to plan 
for their representation at public functions, such as on the occasion 
of viceregal visits. Funds have been raised for these purposes, but, 


unfortunately, through mismanagement, have not proved to be per- 
manent. During the World War the association served as a mouth- 
piece for the expression of the loyalty of the race and did some 
active work in recruiting. It furthered the sending of deputations 
to meet the Montague Commission and later sent a rather ill- 
advised delegation to England to promote the national interests, 
which have been so much emphasized as a result of the world con- 

The military activities of the Karen have been largely confined 
in the past to village raids. There have been times when there 
was a prospect that a real leader might arise to unite a large group 
of villages into a kind of state and carry on warfare on a lar^e 
scale. One such attempt was made by a Karen, of Martaban or 
Shwegyin, who assumed the Burmese title of "Niin Laung" or 
Coming Prince — a favorite title with rebellious members of the 
Burmese court who tried to ursurp the throne. This adventurer 
organized a religio-political movement among his compatriots 
throughout the region from Siam to Bassein. They expected him to 
fulfil a prophecy to the effect that the Karen would drive out the 
foreigners and establish a new dynasty at P^u. However, this 
rebellion was soon put down and its leaders were driven into Kar- 
enni, where they disappeared.® 

The Karen levies, which did so much to re-establish peace 
throughout the province of Burma after the Third Burmese War, 
and, for the most part under their missionaries as officers and with 
but little military organization, captured some of the dacoit lead- 
ers after scattering their followers, rendered a service deserving 
of more credit than it received at the time. Local and racial feeling 
was still running too high, and official circles did not always under- 
stand the situation fully. ^® 

Soon after these services, which were rendered by most of the 
Karens gratuitously and with arms which they had paid for, ma- 
licious rumors were circulated that these men were of doubtful 
loyalty. The result was that they were divested of their arms 
and given no compensation whatever. It still remained true, how- 
ever, that they had saved their homes, protected the honor of their 

^ British Burma Gazetteer, Vol. I, p. 488 ; Imperial Gazetteer, Burma, Vol. I, P. 836 ; Lieut. 
Gen. A. Fytche, C. S. I., Burma, Past and Present, VoL I, Ch. 8, quoted in an article entitled 
"The Karens" in the Rangoon Gazette of June 6. 1917. 

^^ For an account of the capture of Bo Hline, the notorious dacoit, in Tounaroo, see the 
closing chapters of CumminK's In the Shadow of the Pagoda, These chapters are quoted in 
Dr. Bunker's Soo Tha, pp. 248-276. The murderers of Mr. Barbe, the deputy commissioner of 
Bassein, were apprehended by the Karen levy in that district. 



wives and daughters, and rendered an important service to the 
Government, the fruits of which have not yet disappeared. After 
all their long suffering and patient endurance this experience was 
a hard one, to which they should not have been subjected." 

!i MiLiTAKT Police 

Meantime, a battalion of the Karen Military Police had been 
organized and was rendering service to the Government. It re- 
mained a separate unit until 1899. At that time an unfortunate 
affair, in which liquor played a prominent part, resulted in the dis- 
persion of the battalion, the companies that were retained being 
sent into different sections of the province. These surviving com- 
panies have not failed to give a good account of themselves, for 
example, in scattering within the last few years the dacoits in the 
Okkan region of the Insein district and also in the Bassein district. 

■iThli ititemcnt is bued od coirapondencc between members of the American BaptEit 


At the outbreak of the World War in 1914 the loyalty of the 
Karen people manifested itself in the large number of applications 
to enter military service in defense of the Empire. Some of the 
applications were made through the author. None was accepted 
at the time, for the Government had not yet adopted the policy of 
recruiting in Burma. Later, when this was done, the response on 
the part of the Karens was not equaled by that of any of the neigh- 
boring races. However, the number of Karens taken into the 
service was limited. In the Burma Rifles, the one regiment re- 
cruited in the province, of a total of sixteen companies three were 
Karen ; one> Shan ; one, Arracanese, and the others, Burmese. Kar- 
ens were in all the other regiments in about the same propor- 
tion.^2 In the Sappers and Miners, the first unit to leave the coun- 
try for duty abroad, the highest native officer was a Karen. There 
was also a small group of Karens in the company which did itself 
credit in Mesopotamia. An officer of that company told me that 
other officers, in calling for detachments, often asked that Karens 
might be sent. In one Karen company so many of the men were 
detailed for instruction service in other companies that regular 
drill was much interfered with. These incidents suggest that the 
enlisted men among the Karens were rendering an honorable and 
appreciated service in the war. 

Should one inquire as to the future of the Karen people, my 
answer would be that not as a separate people, living apart and 
seeking special advantages for themselves, will they make the most 
progress ; but, forgetting racial feeling as far as possible and throw- 
ing themselves into the life of the land in which they find them- 
selves and adding their quota to the general good, they will not 
only raise themselves, but also the level of the common life which 
they must share with their neighbors. In this way they will truly 
find themselves and contribute to the growth and progress of a 
country that is capable of untold advancement. 

^- The following statement is taken from a letter of Feb. 16, 1919, from the officer in 
charge of recruiting at Meiktila: "In all other units Burmans and Karens are mixed up together, 
but probably the proportion would be about the same as in the Burma Rifles. There are also 
Karens in the Military Police.*' 

-— •-■ri 

Glossary of Karen Words 

NoTB. The TowdB in this g}oesmrj are to be pronounced after the usual continental 
method. Eh is pronounced as e in met, >uid en as e in her. The Greek x is used for the mitteral 
which is pronoonced as cA in locA. and (A is as in thin. Asperated consona ts are indicated by 
phcins the A in front of the letter as AJc, Ap, At, etc. The half vowel is shown by the apostro- 
phe foUowins the letter, as f, C*, etc. In pronouncing, slip over this half vowel as in the first 
syllable of cajole or the coloquial pronounciation of t'morrow. 
Bgha, family demon. 
bffha a hko, leader of the b^ia feast. 
61a e, bat dun^; powder. 

blaw, youns men's dub room, or sucst room. 
Bree, name of a Karen tribe. 

Bu deu ktaw <i, the paddy has headed out (lit., conceived). 
btr«, seeds of the coix plant. 
Bve (for Bghai)^ the name of a Karen tribe. 
doA (Bunnese), long knife. 
daw do, a relation by marriage. 

daw V ka, race of giants who feed on the k'las of mortals. 
deu, room or section of a viUage-house. 
deu m« Iwa hpa, three stars just east of the Pleiades. 
De nya, a lily, the lily month (May). 
du la, a plot selected for cultivation in the hillB. 

-,. ^ „ > two Pwo Karens who stole the original drums. 
Ghaw Ser Paw I 

Ghaw Kwa Htu ) * *u *_ • • i v j 

^. „ „ > names of the two original bronze drums. 

Ghaw Kaw Se j 

Gai hko, the name of a Karen tribe. 

Hi, house. 

hi hpo xeh, tiny model of a house used in bgha rites. 

hkaw, the foot. 

hkli, the crossbow. 

hkli p' ti, a kind of long bow. 

hko, the head. 

hko hti, the fontenaL 

hko peu, a headdress or turban. 

AAo peu ki, a woman's woven headdress. 

hko 9aw, a hut-shaped receptacle for the bones of the dead. 

hko so law, a receptacle as above, but pagoda-shaped. 

Afc' ye, trumpet-shaped fish trap. 

Hkii de, demon of the dry season. 

Hku Te, king of hades. 

Apa J^ pu, a fireplace. 

hpa hpaw mu, midnight. 

''pa ti, uncle. 

hpaw, a flower. 

hpaw baw, yellow cockscomb. 

hpaw ghaw, red cockscomb. 

^t 6a, musical pipes. 
Hpi Bi Yaw, name of the goddess of the crops. 
Apo, child; little. 



kpo kkvrot a son. 
ikpo mU, a daughter. 

. ' ;. part of weddins ceremony, (lit., children tease mother, children tease father) 

nypo nya pa> \ 

hpo tha hkwa htaw, to become adolescent (spoken of a boy). 

Asa, a star ; also the riffht thish bone of a fowl used in divination. 

Asa a hsa neu mt, a ffood omen derived from reading the chicken bones. 

Hsa bu hpaw, the Milky Way. 

Haa deu mu, the Pleiades. 

Hta hki hko, the constellation Sagittarius. 

Haa k* hsaw, the Great Bear. (lit., the elephant). 

Haa ktca hka* Orion. 

hsa V so, a constellation. 

Hsa hta hko, three stars south of the Pleiades. 

Hsa tu ghaw, the momins star. 

Hsa tu ha, the evening star. 

hsa meh htaw, a comet. 

Hsa mo la, a star near the moon. 

Hsa yo "ma, the three stars of Orion's belt, 

hsa yu. 


. . ., f shootiniT stars. 
hsa hpo tha, '^ 

hsaw, a fowl; also a basket for catching fish. 

hsaw xi wa ti htaw, a good omen obtained from reading the fowl's bones. 

hsaw xi wa hkaw, a less favorable omen. 

hsaw xi ku hko mi, a rather unfavorable omen. 

hsaw xi htaw deh pgha Jk* lo, an unfavorable omen. 

hsaw o, the crowing of the cock ; early morning. 

hse, a Karen garment : a smock. 

hse p<o, a man's garment. 

Hsi hsa, the tenth month. 

Hsi tnU, the ninth month. 

hso hko, a platform for receiving guests. 

hta, a hand loom ; a song. 

hta do, an epic poem. 

hta mo pgha, a great poem. 

hta na do, poems chanted over the dead. 

hta hpo, lyric poems, or narrative poems of light character. 

hta plu, poems of the dead. 

hta thi kwaw, extempore poems of betrothal. 

hta thwe plU, poems chanted at funerals addressed to the spirit. 

hta yeh law plii, poems for the king of hades. 

htaw law, a cry which one utters on hearing strange noises in the jungle. 

Htaw meh, Monday. 

hteh, a plow. 

hteu, a bag. 

Hte kU, the second month. 

hti, water. 

hti hsaw, a scoop for catching fish in shallow water. 

Hti fc' saw Wsa, the lords of water and land ; the lords of the earth. 

hti pu law, place in the house for the water- joint. 

hti th* tnu, charmed water. 

hti seh meh ywa, the river of running sand, or the sandy river. 

hto ho, a pole for poling a boat. 

hto tu, a harrow. 

htwi maw seh, a hunting dog. 

K'la, the shade or spirit of a person. 

k'la pyeh, a booth. 

k'li, the wind. 

K'paw ta thu, a demon who causes total eclipses. 

k'sa, lord, (a person or a title). 


k'taiw, a shield. 

k'thi, medicine. 

k*thi haw tho, a masical tiser medicine. 

k'thi thro, a doctor (lit., a teacher of medicine). 

ha hsaw xi, the inspectinff of fowl's bones for divinations. 

ka lauf to, an offering for demons. 

Ka ya, the Red Karen tribe. 

Kayin (Burmese), the Karen people. 

ki ku, a creeper, the leaves of which are used in certain rites. 

kloMf, a mat. 

klo (couplet, klo ogh tra ogh), bronse drums. 

klo a deut the base tube of a Karen xyloplu>ne. 

kio ka paw, 

klo ma tit \. three kinds of Karen bronze drums. 

klo ghaw jde 

ku, a basket. 

k-wet, the cry of the wildcat. 

k-weh, the wedding horn. 

kyee zee (Burmese), a triansrular son^r. 

L,a, the moon ; a month. 

I«a hkli, the fourth month. 

Lra kkiif the ninth month. 

L,a now, the eleventh month. 

La nwi, the seventh month. 

Ua plu, the twelfth month. 

L,a xo, the eighth month. 

Lmw, demons of the rainy season. 

Lmw hpo, demons who bring about the reproduction of the srain. 

ler na, stones bavins magical power. 

/», grandchildren. 

Lii nawt Sunday. 

to, to transmit life. 

longyi (Burmese), a loin cloth or skirt worn by men and women. 

Ma* a wife. 

ma hpo tha, little wife or concubine. 

ffUMc, a small bamboo eup. 

maw keh, a giant creeper, the seeds of which are used as playthings. 

Maw law, kwi, the king of the crocodiles. 

me taWf rice cooked in joints of bamboo. 

me u, fire. 

Meh la ka, the Southern Cross. 

meu do, a large bamboo trap. 

mi, the left thigh bone of a fowl used in divinations. 

mi a m,i neu hsa, an evil omen obtained from reading the fowl's bones. 

MU daw hpa, Friday. 

mo, mother. 

mo a 81, an offering made to bring a good crop of paddy. 

mU, the sun. 

mti gha, aunt. 

mu haw law, early evening. 

mil heh htaw, sunrise. 

fnU heh htaw hpa htaw, the sun is high. 

Mu Hka, the king of spirits. 

mU hse wa htaw, dawn, (lit., the sun's garment whitens). 

MU htaw k'hott, Saturday. 

mU htu, noon. 

MU haw li, the evil power or deviL 

mU law nu, the sun is set. 

mU xe law, the sun declines. 

mu yaw ma, late evening, (lit., the sun is deep down). 


mU pgha, a married woman. 

Mu xa, celestial spirits that preside over births. 

MU xa dop one of the principal demons of the Karen. 

Mil xa hklew, a divinitjr presiding over the banyan tree. 

mtci, a blood-brother; a friend. 

Na, a sword. 

na tiya hti nteh, a sword shaped like the tail of an eel. 

na theh hko, a sword with two edges and a sharp x>oint. 

na xu hko, a blunt-pointed cutting sword. 

naw bin tha, sling-shot pellets. 

Naw k'plaw, the evil demon opposed to Y'wa (God). 

naw xaw, wild indigo. 

fii, a woman's skirt ; a day ; a year. 

ni-thaw, the couplet meaning a day. 

ni-la, the couplet meaning a year. 

nya, fish. 

nya u, fish paste, (lit., rotten fish) ; Burmese, ngape. 

P'yo, a great dragon or a demon in the form of a great dragon. 

pa, father. 

Pa 1c' so. Father God (used of Y'wa). 

paw, (Burmese, pauk), a kind of fish-trap. 

J. air fcu, a xylophone. 

paw leh, the sea. 

paw na, plants having magical powers. 

pgha, a person ; also means old. 

pgha a pgho, a wonder worker or magician. 

pgha ba bgha, one who has offended the family demon. 

Pgha k* nyaw, the Karen term for themselves, (lit., men). , 

pgha htaw leu hko, one who marries outside the tribe. 

pgha tha pgha, an old man ; an elder. 

pgho, an impersonal all-pervasive force; (Melanesian, mana). 

pgho ghaw, the peacock pheasant. 

Pghaw ghaw, the twin peak of Mt. Thaw Thi, the sacred mountain. 

po, the method of preventing witches from working evil charms. 

po dwa, open bamboo pipes. 

prwU'U, a call for children, fowls, spirits, etc. 

pu, a fish-trap. 

pula, betel-leaf vines trained to run up tall trees. 

Pu Maw TaWf mythical owner of the first bronze drums. 

Seh, a rou?h basket. 

agheu, the fructifying principle in life. 

so, power to resist an evil charm ; personality ; a generation. 

8oh, a charm made out of a wild boar's tusk. 

so so xa xa, generation upon generation ; eternally. 

Sgaw, the name of a Karen tribe. 

Tba, negative particle. 

t'kaw, a measure of distance ; the distance one can hear a call. 

t'hka, a pace. 

Vhke mo baw, the demon that causes partial eclipses. 

Vhkwa, a cousin. 

Vhkli, a yard. 

Vhpi, the stretch of the thumb and forefinger. 

t'hta, a hand's breadth. 

Thwe kaw, the third month. 

t^kle V htwa, a disappointment brought about by disregarding a tabu. 

t'kwi leu, a stone's throw. 

t*le, a post set up at funerals over the receptacle holding the bones. 


t'leu, a fish-trap made by placiiv a jar in the water. 

Vlo pa, a mediator who arransca weddings. 

^mii (V Uk, a half-day's journey. 

('no, a harp. 

t'ni Uk, a day's journey. 

7* MM, the destroyinir angel who exterminates the wicjieii. 

t'pla, a cubit. 

Vre t* AJba. ghosts of tyrants, etc., who hanim ranruus. 

t'«o. a unit of measore. 

t'gu miif the length of the forefinger. 

t*x«, the jew's-harp. 

t'xo. Karen armor. 

t'yair, a decoction of the bark of a tree osed for wa^niwp the haxr. 

t'yaw lo Jbe a fc'bi, rites intended to recall the k la or «p>nt of the dtauL 

to, the nominal prefix. 

ta aw bgka, the feast to the houaefaoM deiiM>ns. 

ta aw Ineaw a tka, a feast as abo-ve to prevent iiinew. 

fo aw aaw ke saw no, the feast at which ail r«iati%e» must be present. 

ta aw l^teu, a final feast before giving op the worship of the demons. 

ta di law kwek lek, an offering to the kin^ of hades. 

tn do kkaw. the rhinoceros. 

Ta do k'tke, ta do k'hsaw, the Great Elephant addressed as a demon. 

ta dii ta ktii, tabu, chiefly prohibition of worK. 

ta du haw kko hu, tabn to be observed at the time of an earthquake. 

ta dii hku ta da tkek, the tabu after offerings for good crops. 

ta du hpa htaw, the long tabu. 

to du Idek, the tabu on traveling. 

ta du ta hie, the tabu connected with births. 

ta du ta uu mu ta j/u la, the tabu connect<:d with eclipses. 

ta dii ta ktaw ta law, the tabu connected with the rising and falling of a stream. 

to dii ta the to pgha, the tabu connected with death. 

ta ho ta yaw } . . ,^ . . 

ta ho ta lo J ^^*«*»*^™'* *>«• ^^ "»»«'»«- 

ta hkii hka, the cool season. 

ta hpa do. the great one. used of the elephant by m«n hunting lest the spirits should hear it* 

name mentioned. 
ta hpi htaw a k'la, to recall a human spirit from under the water, 
to h»eh hsu ma bca, a raid, 
to l^heu, things that will win. 
to ko hka, the hot season. 

to kweh l^la hpa do, the great ceremony of recalling the human spirit. 
to le mi, lighting the dead on their way. 
to leh kaw, a game at funerals. Hit., stretching the neck). 
'a lii, a sacrifice or offering. 

to lu hpa do, a great sacrifice to the lords of the earth, 
to lii hpo, the small sacrifice to the lords of the earth, 
to Hi klu htu hti, an offering to the water witches. 

to m law pa law, offerings to the celestial spirits that preside over birthn. 
Ta mii xa, the spirits of those who have been notoriously evil, 
to na, malevolent supernatural beings, 
to neu zo, the smell of burning fat. 

to piai aw ka, the fleeting existence of babies who die soon after birth, 
to se kle, the game of jumping bamboo poles, 
fa m hka, the rainy season. 

to t* ghe ba, lit., it is not good (spoken of things tabued). 
ta V ka, ghosts of persons left unburied. 
to t'hkaw hkaw, a one-legged female demon, 
to V au, a canopy erected over a bier, 
to taw law ta, offerings to the demons. 

to taw the hka krh, offerings for the spirits of notoriously evil ptraonn. 
to to ku, pounding pestles (a funeral game). 


ta wi ta na, evil spirits. 

ta xeh, a sickJe. 

ta yaw ke a k*Uh recallins human spirit from the clutches of a wizard. 

ta yaw kha, the dry season. 

tawt a paddy basket, (Burmese, taung). 

taw, a paddy basket, (Burmese, taung) 

taw kwe taw, , 

a ceremony performed at funerals of very old men. 

,w, j 

taw klaw taw 

taw leu hkOf to marry outside the tribe. 

Taw Meh Pa, the mythical ancestor of the Karen race. 

Teu kweh, the rainbow. 

teu, a has. 

Th* /«, the first month. 

th' reh V hka, spirits of those who have died violent deaths. 

iK waw^ a village. 

tKa, soul. 

tW ma, a crocodile. 

the na, a monarch of hades. 

theh a hku, to make offerings for the field. 

to th* mo, to make offerings for the field. 

Thi hko mu xa, the lord of the demons, of heaven and earth. 

thi keh, a bamboo pole or standard used in the bgha feast. 

thit ae (Burmese), laquer. 

Thi thwa, Thursday. 

tho, a blood brother. 

Thwe kaw, the third month. 

To kyaw, Wednesday. 

to me to pi, paste made of glutenous rice. 

To mU, Tuesday. 

tu, traps in which weights fall on the victims. 

U, to embroider. 

ugh de de, to thrust the finger into one's naval to prevent the rainbow dembn from injuring one. 

Wa, bamboo. 

Wa hkaw, a spring trap ; a spear made of bamboo. 

Wa hJclu, a kind of large bamboo. 

weh, a basketwork paddy-bin ; elder brother or sister. 

weh hpo hkwa^ older brother. 

weh hpo mu, older sister. 

ict» prophet ; soothsayer. 

Xeh, a sickle. 

xa«r htu, a plant used for poisoning the water in fishing. 

y'u'O, the Great Spirit of the Karen ; God. 
I/O, wild plantain or banana. 




Annual Report, American Baptist Foreiirn Mission Society, 1919. 

Baptist Missionary Maffaune, The. 

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Bunker. Rev. Alonzo. D. D., Sketches from the Karen Hills. New York, 1903. 

Carrick, Lieut. E. W., Report on the Bwe Expedition, Rangoon (Gov't), 1894. 

Cross, Rev. E. B., D.D., On the Karens, in Journal, American Oriental Society. Vol. IV, (1864). 

Gilmore. Rev. D. C, D.D., A Karen Grammar, Rangoon, 1901. 

Gilmore, Rev. D. C, D.D., The Karen Traditions, in Journal, Burma Research Society, VoL I, 

Pt. 11. 36. Phonetic Chansres in the Karen Lansruaee, Vol. VIII, Part II, 122. 
Karen Morning SUr, The.* 

Karen Recorder, The, Rangoon, Burma, 1916-1917. 
Logan, J. R., On the Ethnographic Position of the Karens, in Journal, Indian Archipelago, 

Vol. II. (1854). 
Lone, Ko San, Sketch of Rev. Jonathan Wade, D.D., and Karen Tradition. Rangoon, 1907.* 
Lowe. Lt. Ck>l. James, The Karen Trihes or Aborigines of Martaban. in Journal, Indian Archi- 
pelago, Vol. IV, 418 (1864). 
Luther, Mrs. Carlista Vinton, The Vintons and the Karens. Boston, 1880. 
MacMahon, Lt. Col. A. R., The Karens of the Golden Chersonese. London, 1876. 
Mason. Rev. Francis, D.D., British Burma, Its People and Productions. Rangroon, 1860, Revised. 

edition by Theobald Hertford. 1882. 
Mason, Rev. Francis, D.D., The Karen Apostle, A Memoir of Ko Tha Byu. Boston, 1861. 
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of Bengal. (1858), Vol. XXXIV, Pt. I; Physical Character of the Karens, Vol. XXXV, (New 

Series. CXXXI) (1866) ; On Dwellings, Works of Art, etc., of the Karens. Vol. XXXVII. 

Mason, Rev. Francis. D.D., The Story of a Workingman's Life (Autobiography) New York, 1870. 
O'Riley. E., Esq., Journal of a Tour in Karen Nee, in Journal, Indian Archipelago, Vol. II, 

(N. S.) (1858) 391; Notes on Karen Nee, in VoL IV, (N. S.) (1869) 26. 
Poynder, Capt. E. W., Report on Bwe Expedition. Rangoon (Government publication), 1894. 
Rangoon Gazette. The, June 6. 1917 : Sept 27, 1919. 
Smeaton. D. M., The Loyal Karens of Burma. London. 1887. 
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the Karen Trading Society, etc. Rangoon, 1912.* 
Than Bya, Rev. T., M.A., Karen Customs, Ceremonies, and Poetry. Rangoon, 1906.* 
Than Bya, Rev. T.. M.A., The Karens and Their Progress. 1864-1914. ^^ Rangoon, 1914.* 
Vinton, Rev. J. B., D.D.. and Rev. T. Than Bya, Karen Folk-lore Stories. Rangoon. 1908.* 
Wade, Rev. Jonathan. D.D., The Grammar of the Sgaw and Pgho Karen Language. Tavoy. 

Wade. Rev. Jonathan, D.D., The Karen Thesaurus, Vols. I-IV., Tavoy, 1847.** New edition in 

press. Vol. I. Rangoon, 1916. 
Wade, Rev. Jonathan, D.D., A Dictionary of the Sgaw Karen Language, (Karen into English). 

Rangoon. 1896. Revised by Rev. E. B. Cross. D.D.** 
Wade, Rev. Jonathan, D.D.. The Anglo-Karen Dictionary. (Completed by Mrs. J. G. Binney). 

Rangoon. 1888.** 

General Works Dealing with Burma 

Burma Archaeological Survey, Annual Reports. 
Ck)chrane, Rev. H. P., Among the Burmans. New York, 1918. 
Cochrane. Rev. W. W., The Shans. Rangoon, 1912. 

Colquhoun. N. R., Amongst the Shans. New York, 1885. Introduction on History of the Shans 
by Prof, de Lacouperiet. 



Crawf ard, J^ Journal of an Embassy from the Governor General of India to the Coort of 

Vols. 1 and n. London. 18S4. 
Cummins. E. D., In the Shadow of the Pa«oda. London, 1893. 
Fifth Quinquennial Report on Public Edueation in Burma. 
Forbes, Capt. C. J. F. S.. Burma and Its People. London, 1878. 
Frazer, Sir J. G.. The Golden Bough. Vols. I-XI. Oxford, 1911. 
Fraxer, Sir J, G., The Old Testament and Folk-lore. Oxford. 1919. 
Graham, W. A. Siam, A Handbook of Practical, Commercial, and Political Information. Londcc. 

Hanson. Rev. p.. Lilt. D., The Kachins. Ransoon, 1911. 
HeKer. F.. Alte Metalltrommeln aus Sudost-Asien, Leipzig. 1902. 
Hose and MacDougall. The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, London. 1912. 
Imperial Gazetteer, Burma, VoL I. 
Jevons, Introduction to Rdigion. 
Laufer, Berthold, The Si Hia Language, A Study in Indo-Chinese Philology, in Teoung-Pai. 2nd. 

Series, Vol. XVII, No. 1. Leyden, 1916. 
Laufer, Berthold, "Review of Mythology of all Races." in Journal. Amencan Folklore, Vol. XXXI, 

No. CXX. 
Lowis. C. C, "The Tribes of Burma," in Ethnological Survey of India, Rangoon, (Gov't), 1910. 
Nieuwenhuis, Dr., Quer Durch Borneo. Leyden. 1907. 
Parker, E. H., China and Religion. New York. 1905. 
Parmentier, H., "Anciens Tambours de Bronze." in Bulletin. TEksole d' Extreme-Orient. Hanoi. 

Richardson, Dr., "Tours in the Shan Country," in Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal. (1837). 
Sangermano, Father. Description of the Burmese Ehnpire, 1783-1808. (Reprint) Government of 

Burma. Rangoon. 1885. 
Scott, Sir J. G.. "Indo-Chinese Mythology." in Mythology of All Races. Vol. XII. Boston. 1918. 
Scott. Sir J. G., Burma. A Handbook of Practical, Commercial, and Political Information. 

London, 1911. 
Scott. Sir J. G.. and Hardtman, J. P., The Upper Burma Gazetteer, 4 vols. (Government). 

Rangoon. 1901. 
Scott, Sir J. G., ("Shwe Yoe"), The Burman and His Life and Notions. London, 1883. 
Skettt and Blagdon. The Pasran Tribes of the Malay Peninsula. London. 
Snodgrass, Major, The Narrative of the Burmese War. 2 vols. London. 1827. 
Spearman. Col. H., British Burma Gazetter, 2 vols., Rangoon, (Gov't) 1880. 
Yule, Col. Sir Henry. Narrative of the Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855. London. 1858. 
Wayland, Rev. Francis, D.D., Life of Adoniram Judson. Boston, 1853. 

Other General Works 

Carpenter, J. E., Comparative Religion. New York, 1913. 

Codrington, R. H., The Melanesians. Oxford, 1918. 

Cole. Fay Cooper. The Wild Tribes of the Davao District. Chicago, 1913. 

Davies, Maj. H. R., Yunnan. The Link between Burma and the Yangste. London, 1913. 

Deniker, J., The Races of Men. New York, 1906. 

Foy, W., "Uber Alter Bronzetrommeln aus Sudost-Asien," in Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen 

Gesellschaft in Wien. Vol. XXXIII, 1918. 
Indian Imperial Census, The, Part I. 1911. 
Ross, John., The Original Religion of China. 

* Denotes works in Karen. 

** Denotes works in both English and Karen. 


ABBOTT. Rev. E. A.. Baptist missionary in 

Bassein, 298. 
Administration, judicial, of the British, 807. 
Adultery, condemnation of, in Karen laws, 148 ; 

sacrifice and ostracism for, 192 ; tabu against, 

After-life, the. See Immortality. 
Asrriculture, economic aspect of, 92-98, 180 ; 

use of maffic in. 271-278 ; tabus and, 290-291. 

See Cultivation. 
Alcoholic drinlc. See Beverages. 
Alphabet, the Siraw, 82 ; the Pwo, 88. See 

Altar the, use of, in sacrifices, 78, 286. 241, 269. 

See Ritual, also Sacrifices. 
Amiability, of the Karen, 80. 
Ancestor worship, practice of, 248, 260. 
Anderson. Dr.. on the manufacture of Karen 

bronre drums. 124-126. 
Anglican Mission, the, 801. 
Animism. 210-211. See Demonology ; also Re- 
Antidotes, use of. against poisoned arrow- 
tips. 98. 
Appearance, physical. See Physique. 
Arabian Nights, the, translation of. into 

Karen, 810. 
Armor, Karen use of, 160. 
Art. Karen, 126. See Bronze Drums. 
Astronomy, Karen knowledge of, 68-64. 
Auspices, and the prophets, 246 ; the use of, 

276. For occasions of, see Ritual, Sacrifices, 

Ava, oppressive rule of, in Burma, 806. 

BAG-PIPE, the, 166. 

Banyan tree, the, sacred character of, 224. 

Baptist Mission, the American, foundation of, 
296 ; interest of natives in, 297 ; activities of, 
298-800, 810. 

Basketry, Karen, 118-114. 

Beauty, appreciation of, 80. See Dress, Orna- 

Beliefs. See Religion, Superstitions. 

Betel plant, the, use of, 72-78; cultivation of, 

Betrothal. See Marriage. 

Beverages, variety of, 71-72. See Drunken- 

"Bgha," the, feasts to, 248-267 ; customs inci- 
dental to the feasts, 267-260; tabus and. 
261, 291. 

Bible, the, identification of with the Lost Book, 
298; translation of. into Karen, 800. 810. 

Biganget, Bishop, Roman Catholic missionary, 

Binney, Rev.- J. G., founder of the Karen 
Theological Seminary, 800. 

Birth-marks, on Karen children, 19 ; Karen ex- 
planation of, 21. 

Blankets, Karen, 41. 

"Blaw," see Guest-chamber. 

Blood-brotherhood, strength of bonds of. 26 ; 
kinds of. 136; ceremonies of, 186-188; ob- 
ligations of, 187-188. 

Blow-gun, the, mode of manufacture, 96-97. 

Blythe. Rev. E. W.. on sacrifices to the "Bgha," 

Boardman, Rev. G. D., missionary at Tavey, 
296. 297. 

Bow, the, mode of manufacture of, 98. 

Boxing, among the Karen, 176. 

Box trap, the, 99. 

Brayton, Rev. D. L., translator of the Bible 
into Pwo Karen, 800. 

Brecs, the, a Karen tribe, 4 ; stunted growth of, 
16 ; drunkenness among, 29 ; poverty of, 86, 
42 : customs observed at childbirth, 169 ; 
tabus of, 288. 

British Government, the, conquers Burma 
of, 127, n ; 141 : Karen attachment to, 26, 
806; annexation of Pegu by, 298; effects of, 
in Burma, 806-807 ; employment of Karens 
by, 309, 812, 818. 814. 

Bronze drums, bearing on racial origin of the 
Karen, 9; original source of, 9, 116, 116-117; 
kinds of. among the Karen, 116, 118-119, 120; 
value of, 9, 116-117; descripiton of. 120-124; 
manufacture of, 124-126 ; use of, 194. 

Buddhism, influence of, on Karen cults, 264. 

Bunker, Dr. Alonzo, on Karen customs at 
childbirth, 169. 

Burial, practice of, 204-206, 221 ; places of, 206- 
206. See Funerals. 

Burma, habitat of the Karen, 1, 12, 14; Brit- 
ish conquest of, 127 n. ; 141, 804 ; arrival of 
Rev. Adoniram Judson in, 296, n., 1 ; prog- 
ress of Christianity in, 296-808. 

Burmese, the, habitat of, 1 ; and, the Karen, 
vii, 22, 76 n., 87, 804, 806, 807 ; alphabet and 
Karen writing, 81 ; influence on Karen life 
and practices, 87, 42, 111, 114, 167, 171, 262; 
umbrella, 48 ; costume, 47 ; purpose of 
charms worn by, 277 ; persecution of early 
Karen Christians, 297, 298. 




Bwe tribes, the, habitat, S ; numbers, 4 ; pe- 
culiar practice in counting, 88 ; funeral cus- 
toma, 208; srreat sacrifice of. 287-288; the 
priests of, 247. 

Bya, Rev. Thra Than, cited on Karen be- 
trothals, 177 ; on the propitiation of demons, 
242 : on divination, 288 ; translations into 
Karen. 310. 

CALENDAR, the Karen. See Time. 
Captives, disposal of, 167. See Slavery, war- 
Carpenter, J. E., on primitive relisious ideas, 

210 n., 1. 
Carrick, Lieut. E. W., on the Karen art of 

divination. 283. 
Caste, among the Karen, 129. • 

Census Report, enumeration of the Karen, 8-4. 
Characteristics. See Mental, Physical. 
Charms, potency of, 288, 268; the use of, 271, 

ft. See Magic. 
Chastity, 184, 189, 142 ; enjoined in laws of the 

elders, 80; of marriages, 192, 225, 288. 
Chief, his authority in the village, 128-129, 148, 

Childbirth, methods employed at, 168-169 ; and 

demonology, 169-170, 224 ; tabus observed at, 

Children, protection of, against demons, 169- 

170 ; naming. 170 ; treatment and care of, 

170-171 : pleasures of, 172-176 ; betrothal of, 

176-177 ; funerals of, 208. 
China, the original home of the Karen, 6, 

IT. ; linguistic influence of, on the Karen, 

Christianity, foundation for, in the "Y'wa" 

legend. 212 ; Karen readiness for, 217 ; 

abandoning heathen practices for. 260-261 ; 

influence of, on Karen religious cults, 264 ; 

introduction of, by first Baptist Mission. 

296 ; spread of, among the Karen. 296-300, 

309-810. See Religion. 
"Climbing the fruit tree." See Funeral 

Cloth, mode of manufacture. 108-111 ; quality 

of, 111-118. 
Clothing. See Dress. 

Clouds, Karen mythical explanation of, 281. 
Codrington, Bishop R. H.. on an impersonal 

power in men and things, 210. n. 1. 
College, the Baptist, 300. 
Concubinage, 184. 
Confession, practice of, at the great sacrifice, 

Congo, region of the, musical instruments of, 

166. n. 4. 
Constellations, the, Karen myths about. 53-54. 
Converts, number of Karen Christian, 300. 
Cooking, Karen utensils, 67, 70. See Diet. 


Cotton, cultivation, 84 ; ginning, 108 ; 

of preparation for spinning, 108 ; spinning. 
110. See Dyeing, Weaving. Ck>th. 

Courtship, serenading in. 189-141 ; and the 
bethrothal, 177-178. 

Crawfurd, John, on boxing among the Kmren, 

Creation, the Karen view of, 10; "Vwa." tra- 
dition of, among the Karen, 211-213. 

Cremation, practice of, 204. See Funerals. 

Crime, condmenation of. in Karen law, 144, ff. 

Crops, rice, 75, ff., 98 ; subsidiary prodnctss, 
84-86 : yield of. on the plains, 92. See Asrri- 
culture. Production. 

Cross, Rev. E. B., on Karen mythology, 22S ; 
contributions to Karen literature, 310. 

Crossbow, the, use of poisoned darts, 97 ; pro- 
ficiency with, 98. 

Cultivation, primitive methods of, in the hills, 
76, ff. ; mode of, on the plains, 87, ff. See 
Agriculture, Crops, RituaL 

Culte, religious, the "Maw Lay" cult. 29, 264 : 
other. 264-266. 

Customs, Karen, pre-natal and natal, 168-170. 
171. See Marriage, Funerals, Ritual, Sacri- 

DANCING, 167. 

Davies, Maj. H. R., on the Karen language. 8. 

"Dawkula,'* the, or the Karen National News, 

Death, Karen fear of, 194 ; relation of, to the 

"k'la," 218-220. See Funerals. 
Decoration. See Bronze drums. 
DeLacouperie, Prof., on origin of the Karen. 

14. n. 
Democracy of Karen government, 148-144. 
Demonology, classification of demons, 223, ff. ; 

diversity and ubiquity of demons, 226, ff. ; 

sacrifices to demons, 286, ff. See Anim.i8ia, 

Mythology, Sacrifices. 
Devil, the, in Karen religion, 218 ; and the fall 

of man, 216-216 ; influence of, over the first 

woman, 249; the temptation by, 279. 
Dialects. See Language. 
Diet, Karen, character of, 66, 68, 71. 
Diseases, prevalence of, 16 ; susceptibility of 

the Karen to, 19: For treatment of, see 

Diviniation, Sir J. G. Scott on origin of, 279 ; 

mythical origin of, 279, 280; practice of. 

279-280; art of, 282-286. For occasions of, 

see Ritual. 
Divorce, practice of, 191-192. 
Domestic animals, 64-66, 102. 
Dress, Karen, the "hse" or smock. 36-40 : Shan 

and Burmese influence on, 86, 87 ; diversity 

of pattern and colors in, 86-38 ; female. 88-41 ; 
head-dress. 43. 
Drugs. See Medicine. 




Drums. See Bronze drums. 

Drunkeness. prevalence of, 29 ; relation of, to 

crime. 72. 
Dualism, in the Karen religion, 218, 217. See 

Dyeins, 110. 

EARRINGS. Karen use of. 46. 

Earthquake. Karen myth of. 2S0 : Karen ex- 
planation of. 289 ; tabus during, 289. 

East India Company, British, annexation of 
Burmese provinces by, 804. 

Eclipses, Karen explanation of, 54, 281, 289 ; 
Ubus during, 288-289. 

Education, progress in. 27, 807, fT. ; influence 
of. on Karen occupations, 96, 809, 810 ; mis- 
sion schools, 800., 801. 

Elders, the. position of, in the village, 127-128 : 
authority of. 143-144 ; healing offerings made 
by, 247 ; on cavities in the abdomen, 277 ; 
first hear the Christian message, 297. 

Elephants, use of, 87; hunting of, 102-104. 

Esthetic sense, 80. 

FALL of man, the Karen account of, 214-216. 

Family, the, Karen regard for. 186-186 ; the 
"Bgha" of. 248: feasts to the "Bgha," 264. 

Famine, 145. 

Fear, prevalence of, among the Karen, due to 
Burman oppression, 22 ; and superstition, 

Feasting, 249, ff. For occasions, see Funerals. 
Marriage, Sacrifices. 

Feud. See Vengeance, Warfare. 

Fire, mode of making. 70-71. 

Firearms, introduction of, into Burma, 169 ; 
use of, by the Karen, 169. See Weapons. 

First Burmese War (1824-6), 127, n. 1. 

Fishing, implements of, in the hills, 104-106 ; 
various modes of. 104-107. 

Food, Karen, mode of preparing, 68-70 ; serv- 
ing and eating, 70. See Diet. 

Forays. See Warfare. 

Fornication, condemnation of, in Karen laws, 
148 ; penalties for, 192 ; an offence against 
the Bgha," 258 : tabu on. 287. 

Fowl, the, mythical explanation of use of, in 
sacrifices and divination, 268-259, 279-280; 
use of chicken bones in divination, 282-283. 
For occasions of use of, see Ritual, Sacri- 

Foy, W., on old bronze drums, 116, n. 1. 

Frazer, Sir J. G., on fear of loss of one's 
"k'la," 219, n. 14, on the scapegoat, 285, 
n. 3. 

Funerals, Karen, festive character of. 198-194, 
208-209 : preparing the body. 195-197 ; diver- 
sity of rites at, 197, ff. ; poetry used in. 197. 
198-200 ; games used in. 200-202 ; ceremonies 
at. 202-204. 

GAME, abundance of, in Burmese hills, 96. 
Games, of children, 171-175; funeral, 200-202. 
Gates, Mr. F. H., on Karen use of shields, 160. 
Gilmore, Dr. D. C, on origin of Karen race. 

6 ; on Karen language, 9, 82 ; on Karen myth 

of the fall of man. 213. ff. 
Ginning, method of. 108. 
Gobi Desert, the, 6-6. 
God, conception of, in the Karen religion, 212 ; 

the "Y'wa" legend, 212-218; and the fall of 

man. 218-216. 
Government, the Karen, 127-129 ; democracy of, 

143-144 ; the British, 306-807. 
Great sacrifice, the, of the Sgaw Karen. 236- 

286; of the Bwe Karen, 237-288. 
Guest-chamber, of the Karen village-house, 62. 

Guitar, the, 163-164. 

HABITAT, of the Karen, 1-2. 

Harp, the Karen, 162 ; the Burmese, 162, n. 2. 

Hnrris. Rev. E. N., and the Karen hymn-book. 

Head-dress, Karen. 37, 40, 43. 
Health, of the Karen, 19. See Diseases. 
Heger, Mr. Franz, on manufacture of bronze 

drums. 124-126. 
"Hkli Bo Pa," a Christian Karen cult, 265. 
Homosexuals, 21. 

Honesty, Karen reputation for, 27. 82, 144, 149. 
Horn, see Wedding-horn. 
Hose and MacDougall, quoted on resemblances 

between the Karen and the Kayans of 

Borneo, 14-15. n. 
House, the Karen, character of, 56, 68, 64. 

267-268 ; construction of. 67-68 ; interior of, 

"Hpi Bi Yaw," mythical goddess of the crops, 

84, 98, 226. 
"Htaw Meh Pa," mythical founder of the 

Karen race, 6. 12-14. 46, 269. 
Hunting, Karen delight in, 96 ; mode of, 96 ; 

weapons employed in, 96-98 ; use of dogs in, 

102 ; elephants, 102-104 ; lack of sportsman- 
ship in, 104. 
Hsrmns, Karen love of. 29 ; Karen. 310. See 


IMMORTALITY, condemnation of, in Karen 
laws, 148 ; attitude toward, 192 ; Karen ideas 
of, 222, 280, 233. See Fornication. 

Incantations, on removal of village. 68-64 ; 
in agricultural sacrifices, 75-83 ; in connec- 
tion with blood-brotherhood, 137 ; in prepara- 
tion for a foray. 163-154; natal. 169-170; 
wedding, 188-189; funeral. 195. 197, 205; in 
propitiation of demons. 225. ff. ; at feasts to 
the "B?ha," 250. 251 ; in ritual of divination. 
283. 284. 

Indo-Chinese peninsula, habitat of the Karen. 



Industry, effect of tabus on Karen, 286, ff. : 295. 

See Occupations. 
Intellect. Karen, 26, 27. See Education. 
Intermarriage, prevalence of, 176. 
Irrawaddy, delta, habitat of the Ssaw Karen. 

1 ; native melodies of, 29. 
Irrigation, 93. 

JEWS, the. supposed influence of, on the 
Karen, 10-12. 

Jew's-harp, the, 162-163. 

Judson, Dr. Adoniram, on religious cults among 
the Karen, 264 ; founder of American Bap- 
tist Mission, 296 n. 1 ; his first disciple, 297. 

Judson College, at Rangoon, 800. 

Justice, Karen practice of. 129. 143-144, 286; 
Karen laws, 144-161 ; British practice of, in 
Karen districts. 806, 807. 

KAREN, the, as a race. 1. ff . ; origin of the 
word, 7-8 : relations of, to their neighbors, 
vii. 22. 66. 87. 104. 106, 111. 114. 124. 169. 
168. 262. 297, 298. 304. 305, 307; loyalty to 
British rule. 805. 306, 314. For Origin. 
Religion, Customs. Occupations, etc., see ap- 
propriate heads. 

Karenni. the. See Red Karen 

Kinship. Karen ideas of. 135-136. See Family. 

"K'la," the, Karen conception of. 193. 218-221 : 
seat of, 221. 245; importance of. 169, 193, 
ft., 282 ; and the soul, 218 ; in sickness, 239. 
IT. ; sacrifices to. 243-245 ; and the use of 
magic, 275-276. 

Kondagyi village, bronze drum from, described. 

Ko Pisan (Ko San Yo), founder of a Christian 
cult among the Karen, 264-265. 

Ko Shwe Waing, early convert to Christianity, 

Ko Tha Byu, first native Christian missionary. 

LAND, distribution of, 129. See Agriculture, 

Language, Karen, classification, 8 ; bearing of, 

on origin of Karen race, 6-8 ; characteristics 

of, 8-9. 31-33 ; the written, 31 : and Chinese. 

32 ; family relationships expressed in, 135- 

136. See Literature, Poetry. 
Laufer. Dr. Berthold. on origin of the Karen 

people, 6, 10-11. 
Laws, Karen, traditional character of, 143-144 ; 

mode of preservation of, 144 ; subject-matter 

of, 144-151. See Justice. 
Lightning. See Thunder. 
Logan, J. R., on origin and racial affinity of 

the Karen, 14, n. 
Loom, the Karen, 111, 112, 114; the Burmese, 


"Lords of the land and water." in Karen 
demonology, 225 ; the great sacrifice to. 235. 
ff. : the small sacrifice to, 289. 

Lost Book, the, legendary account of, 279«280 ; 
supposed recovery of, 297, 298. 807. 

Lowis. C. C, 12. n. 18. 

MacMAHON, Col., A. R., on Karen dancing. 
167 ; on Karen magic. 276 ; on Bwe tabus. 

Magic, Karen ideas on, 210, 267 ; Karen prac- 
tice of, 267. 270, ff. : practitioners of. 268- 
269 ; white magic. 271-273 ; black magic, 273. 

Malaria, prevalence of, 16. 

Manners, Karen, 30. 

Marriage, practice of monogamy, 134 : match- 
making. 176-181; wedding ceremonies. 181- 
190 ; permanence of Karen, 190-191 ; and 
demonology, 224 : and tabus. 287. 294. 

Martyrs, among early Karen Christians. 298. 

Mason, Rev. Francis, D.D., on the theories of 
Karen origin, 5, 10, 12, 14 ; on the veracity 
of the Karen, 27 ; on the order of the 
months in the Karen calendar, 50 ; on the 
breed of pigs, 65; on bronze drums, 116; on 
blood-brotherhood. 136-137 ; on Karen slavery, 
141 ; on the preservation of Karen laws, 143, 
144 ; on forays and peace pacts, 158 ; on 
natal practices of the Karen, 169 ; rendering 
of a Karen poem on God, 212; on the legend 
of the ancestors of the human race. 217, n. 
11; on Karen mythology, 222; on Mount 
"Thaw Thi," 262, 263; on Karen medicine. 
277 ; translation of the Bible. 300 : founda- 
tion of "Dawkula," 310. 

Match-making. See Marriage. 

Mat-making. 113. 

Matriarchy, possible survival of, among the 
Karen, 188, 190, 249. 

Maw Lay, the, music of, 29 ; cult of, 264. 

Mawnepgha Karen, the, belonging to the Sgaw 
group, 1 ; domestic animals of, 65. 

Measurement, Karen standards of. 51-68. 

Meats, variety of, in use, 66 ; preparation of, 
69-70. See Diet, Food. 

Medicine, Karen resort to, 270 ; the medicine- 
teacher, 269, 270. 277 ; native practice of 
277, 278. See Magic. 

Medicine-teacher, the, 269, 270. 277, 278. 

Meh, Thra Klaw, martyrdom of. 298. 

Mental characteristics, 22, ff. 

Midwife, the Karen, 168. 

Migrations, legendary, of Htaw Meh Pa, 5; 
supposed routes of, 12-14. 

Mind, the Karen. 22. ff . ; 27. 

Missions. See Baptist, Roman Catholic, 

Mbsionaries, in Burma, 296, n. 1 ; 297. 298, 
300. 301, 303. 304. 

Monogamy. See Marriage. 



Monotheism. See Religion. 

MopRha Karen, the, dress of, 38. 

"Mu kaw li." See Devil. 

Murder, penalties for, in Karen law, 149-150. 

Music, Karen love of, 29 ; occidental, 29. 161 ; 
native, 29, 161 : proficiency in, 161. 

Musical instruments, Karen, 162. ff. 

"Mil xa." the, spirits that preside over births. 
223-224. 248. 

Mytholosry, character of Karen. 223 ; demons in 
Karen. 223, ff. ; of Karen origins, 6-6 ; and 
bronze drums, 117; relating: to Karen 
funerals. 193-194 ; of the fall of man, 213. 
ff. ; concerning the cultivation of rice, 226 ; 
concerning the king of hades, 227-228; of 
Atlas, 230; and Mount 'Thaw Thi." 6. 262, 
ff. ; of "Y'wa" and the Lost Book. 279-280. 
See Demonology. 

NABAAIN village, bronse drum from, de- 
scribed, 120-121. 
Names, Karen, of children, 170 ; superstitions 

in regard to, 292. 
Nationalism, rise of, 310-311; 312. 
Necromancy. See Magic. 
Negrito blood, admixture of, 17. 
Nestorianism. supposed influence of, on the 

Karen. 10-11. 
Newspapers, Karen, 310. 
Nichols, Dr. C. A.. Baptist missionary in 

Bassain, 300. 
Nicknames, Karen, 170. 
Nieuwenhuis, Dr., on the rice-pounder dance 

in Borneo, 201, n. 5 ; on fear of loss of one's 

"kMa," 219, n. 14. 
Numerals. Karen. 88. 
Nwedaung village, manufacture of bronze 

drums in, 124. 

OCCUPATIONS, Karen, agriculture. 76-95; 

fishing and hunting. 96-107 ; cloth-making, 

108-118; mat-making and basketry, 113-114; 

subsidiary. 86-87. 95, 309. 810. 
Offerings, for the sick. 239-248 ; to the e"k'la," 

243-246. See Sacrifices. 
Omens, variety of. 178. 190. 229, 290; and 

tabus, 290. See Divination, Ritual. 
Oranges, growth of, 85. 
Ordeal, of tree climbing, 236. 
Origin, of the Karen people, the legendary 

founder of the race, 6-6 ; various hypotheses 

of, 6, ff. ; Karen monotheism and the lost 

tribes of Israel, 10; Karen migrations, 12-14. 
O' Riley, Mr. J., on the probable route of 
^ Karen migrations. 18-14. 
Ornamentation. See Bronze drums. 
Ornaments. Karen, diversity of, 43, ff. ; gro- 

tesquenesB of, 4>!-46 ; worn by men, 46-47. 
Orphans, ostracism of. 134. 288 ; magical 

powers of, 269-270, 288. 

Ostracism, ancient practice of, 188-134, 288 ; 
for adultury, 192. 

PADAUN6 Karen, the, ornaments of, 44; the 
bag-pipe of, 166 ; natal practices of, 169 ; 
art of divination of. 283. 

"Paddy." See Rice. 

Paku Karen, the, belonging to the Sgaw group, 
1 : dress of, 36 ; domestic animals of, 66. 

Pao, the. See Taungthu. 

Parker, E. H.. 12, n. 

Passions, the Karen explanation of, 276-277 ; 
charms used to control, 277. 

Patriarch. See Chief. 

Peace pact, the Karen. 157-158. 

Pegu, annexation of, by British Empire, 298. 

Pegu Hills, the. Karen dress in, 35, 40 ; the 
Karen village in. 56, 126 ; Karen fishing in. 
107; bronze drums in. 118; funeral rites in, 
197. 206-207; feasts to the "Bgha" in. 249, 
ff . ; persecution of Karen Christians in, 297, 
298. 306. 

Persecution, of early Karen Christians. 297, 

"Pgho," the divine essence, 210. 

Philippine Islands, similarities between tribes 
of, and the Karen, 16 ; musical instruments 
of, 166, n. 4. 

Physique, Karen, height, 16; color, 16-18; 
features, 18; hair, 18; general traits, 19-20. 

Pig, kind of, among the Karen. 64 ; sacrificial 
character of. 269, 279-280, 284. See Sacri- 

Pilgrim's Progress, translated into Karen, 310. 

Pipe, the bamboo tobacco, 164-166. 

Po, Dr. San C, a prominent Karen, 810. 

Poetryl ditties of Karen children, 173-174; 
rhyming contests, 177 ; of betrothals, 177, ff. : 
wedding, 182-183, 188; funeral, 197. 198-199. 
200. 208: religious, 211-212. 263. See Liter- 

Poison, use of, 97-98, 107 ; antidotes, 98 ; pos- 
session of, condemned by Karen law, 150. 

Politics. See Government. 

Polygamy, practice of, 134. 

Population, Karen, 8-4. 

Portuguese, missionaries in Burma, 11 ; intro- 
duce firearms into Burma, 159. 

Pottery, Karen, 67, 70. 

"Pounding the pestles." See Games, funeral. 

Poynder, Capt. C. E., on the Karen art of 
divination, 283. 

Practices. Karen. See Customs. 

Prayer, Karen, at the great sacrifice. 236-286 ; 

at the small sacrifice, 289 ; in sickness, 240. 

ff.. 294; to the "k'la." 243-245; at feasts 

to the "Bgha," 260, 251, 257 ; to demons. 240. 

ff., 293. See also Incantations, Sacrifices. 
Precepts. See Laws. 
Press, the Karen, 310. 



Property, regard for private, 129, 131 ; com- 
munity of, 130. 

Prophets, the. business of. 246-247, 276-276; 
selection of. 247. 

pa Maw Taw. mythical owner of the first 
bronze drums, 117. 

Pwo, the, a sroup of the Karen. 173 ; relation 
to the Sgaw, 33. 

Python, the White. See White Python. 

RAINBOW, the. in Karen demonoloery. 227. 

Rangoon Gazette, on the classification of 
bronse drums, 118. 

Red Karen, the. a Bwe tribe, 4. 31 : dress of 
37: ornaments of, 44.; bronse drums of. 117; 
special tabus of, 286. 

Reincarnation, relation of, to the "k'la," 168. 
218. ff.. 222. 

Religion. Karen, monotheism. 10-12, 212-213 ; 
three conceptions of, 210-211 ; and ostracism, 
134 : the soul and the "k'la." 218, ff. ; Mount 
"Thaw Thi." 268; religious cults. 264-266. 
See Christianity. Ritual. 

Rhinoceros, the. in Karen demopoloipy, 226. 

Rice, importance of. 66 ; preparation of. 67-68 ; 
fermentation of. 71-72 ; cultivation of, 76, ff. ; 
sacred character of. 222, 226. 

Ritual. Karen religious, at annual removal of 
village. 68-64 ; in connection with agricul- 
ture, 76, ff., 93-96: and bronze drums, 118- 
119: at feasts to the "Bgha." 188. 249. ff. ; 
of blood-brotherhood. 186-138 ; of the foray, 
162-164; 167-168: at childbirth. 167-170; at 
betrothal, 178; of the wedding. 188-189; of 
the funeral, 64-66, 196, 197. 206; origin of. 
216 : of propitiation, in sickness. 224, 226. 
284, 240. ff.. 248-246 ; of divination. 283. See 
also Incantations. Prayer. Sacrifices. 

"River of Running Sand." the. See Origin. 

Roman Catholic Mission, the. 301. 

Ross, John, 12, n. 16. 

SACRIFICES. Karen religious, mythical 
origin of. 226, 227 ; classification of, 234, ft. ; 
festival character of. 287 ; to the "k'la," 243- 
246 ; to the "Bgha." 2^1 ; animals used in, 
269 : to demons of the flooded rivers, 292. 
See also Incantations, Prayer, Ritual. 

Satan. See Devil. 

Sayings, of the elders, 12. n. 17 ; 144-160. 

Schools. See Education. 

Scott. Sir J. G , on lack of humor among the 
Karen, 23 ; on natural origin of the practice 
of divination, 279. 

Second Burmese War, (1852-3), 127, n. 1; 
298. 306. 

Sects. See Cults. 

Seining, mode of, among the Karen, 106-107. 

Serpent, the Devil as a. 216. 

Sgaw. the. a group of the Karen. 1-3 ; lan- 
guage of, 81. ff. ; great sacrifice of. 285-286. 
small sacrifice of. 289 ; practice of divina- 
tion. 284 : pre-natal tabus of. 287. 

Shakespeare, translation of, into Karen. 310. 

Shan. the. neighbors of the Karen. 1. 4, 12 ; 
infiuence of. on the Karen. 36, 37. 43. 67. 
114. 116, 169; bronze drums manufactured 
by. 9. 124. 

Shwegyin district, Karen dress in. 40 ; the betel 
plant in, 84; marriage customs in. 177. 187; 
funeral rites in. 206 ; household deities in. 

248. 260; religious cults in. 264. 
Shyness, Karen. 28. 

Siam. habitat of the Karen. 1, 2. 804 ; rite of 
removal in. 64 ; drunkenness among the 
Karen in, 72 ; funeral practices in. 197-198. 
204 : feast to the "Bgha" in. 260. 

Sickness, interpretation of. 193. 241. 270; pro- 
pitiation of the spirits in, 193. 234, 239-248. 

249, fT. : use of magic in, 270. 274. 276 ; use 
of medicine in, 277. 278; divination in. 282. 

Sin. the original, in Karen legend, 213-216 ; 
penalty for, after death, 280, 233 ; confession 
of, 236. 

Skeat and Blagden. on the blowpipe, 97. n. 1. 

Slavery, prevalence of. 141. 1-12. 167. 

Slingshot, the, 88. 

Small sacrifice, the, of the Sgaw. 239. 

Smeaton. D. M.. on the benefits of Christianity, 

Smells, Karen superstitions regarding. 277-278. 

Smith. Rev. D. A. W., president of the Karen 
Theological Seminary. 800 ; author of com- 
mentaries and text-books. 810. 

Snodgrass, Maj.. 806. 

Skeat and Blagden. on the blow-gun. 97. n. 1. 

Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in 
Toungoo. 801. 

Soul ("Tha"). the. Karen conception of. 218. 

Space. Karen conception of. 61-63. 

Spices, use of, 66. 69. 

Spinning, 108-110. 

Spinning-wheel, the. 108-110. 

Sportsmanship, Karen, 104, 107. 176. See 
Hunting, Fishing. 

Spring trap. the. 99-101. 

Statistics of the Baptist Mission in Burma. SCO. 

Stealing, see Honesty. Theft. 

Superstitions. Karen, regarding the 'Ti'Ia," 
218-221: regarding smells. 277-278; and ta- 
bus. 286, 288. (f. See also Customs, Demon- 
ology. Tabus. 

Stars, the. Karen acquaintance with, 63-64. 

Strangers, entertainment of, 62. 189 ; attitude 
of Karen toward. 267-268 ; restrictions on. 

"Stretching the neck." See Games, funeral. 

Suicide, attitude of Karen toward. 160. 

Swa. the, 116. n. 2. 



Swords, Karen, 160. 

Symbolhin. in propitiatory sacrifices, 242-248. 

TABU, what associated with, 286: description 
of various tabus, 261, 286-294; effects of 
tabus, 294-296. 

Taunsrhthu tribe, the. belonging to the Pwo 
group, 1. 8. 

Taxes, Karen, 129. 

"Thaw Thi," Mount, the Karen Olymphus, 6. 
224. 281, 262-264; the worship on. 268. 

Theft, penalties for, in Karen law, 27, 149. 

Theological Seminary, the. foundation of. 800. 

TkeaauruM, Karen, The, on the value of bronze 
drums, 116; on Karen swords. 169 ; on Karen 
conceptions of the divine force. 210; on 
Karen mythology. 228 ; on native medicine. 
278; compilation of, 810. 

Third Burmese War (1886), 127, n. 1; 806, 

Threshing, modes of, 82, 90; tabu of the 
threshing-floor, 291. 

Thunder, Karen mythical explanation of, 281. 

Time, Karen measurements of, 48-60. See also 

Tobacco, Karen use of. 72. 74. 

Toungoo district, habitat of the Bwe Karen. 
1. 81 : domestic animals in. 66. 102 ; agricul- 
tural products of. 84-86. 86; baskets of the 
Karen in, 114; bronze drums of, 118; war- 
fare in. 162; Mount "Thaw Thi." 262-268; 
Anglican Mission in. 801. 

Trade, in rice, 92; in firearms. 169. 

Traditions. See Mythology. 

Trapping. 98 ff.. 106. ft. See Hunting. Fishing. 

Tribes, of the Karen. 8. 127. 

Twins. Karen explanation of, 170. 

UPAS tree. the. poison from. 97. 


Vengeance. Karen ideas of. 26, 147, 160, 162. 

Village, the Karen, construction of 66-60; 

stockade of. 60 ; Burmese influence on. 68 ; 

appearance of. 60-68 ; annual removal of. 

68-64 : government of, 127-129. 148-144. 247 ; 

community life in, 180. 
Vinton, Dr. J. B., on the "River of Running 

Sand." 6, 6. n. 
Vinton, Dr. J. H., on Tribal Resemblances of 

the Karen. 16 ; in Rangoon, 298 

Vinton, Mrs. J. H., author of Karen hymns, 

Voices, Karen, 29. See Music. 

WADE. Dr. Jonathan, on paired words in the 
Karen language, 81-82; comparison of Pwo 
and Sgaw dialects by, 88 ; on blood-brotiier- 
hood. 186; of the proper rendering of the 
word "soul," 218, n. 18 ; on Karen magic, 
274 ; on Karen medicine. 277 ; reduces Karen 
language to writing, 297 ; author of diction- 
aries and grammars of Pwo and Sgaw dia- 
lects. 800 ; compiler of the Karen ThssauruM, 

Waer, the. habiUt of. 116, n. 2. 

Warfare, Karen, character of, in olden days, 
162; the foray. 162-167. 

Wealth. Karen ideas of. 129-180. 

Weapons. Karen, for hunting and trapping. 
96-102; for fighting. 168-169; introduction 
of firearms. 169 ; use of armor, 160. See 

Weaving. 110-111. 

Wedding, the Karen, preparations for, 181- 
182; procession, 182-184; feasting at, 186- 
189 ; Ubus, 190 ; in the Pegu Yomas, 184-186. 

Wedding-horn, the, 166. 

Weirs, Karen use of, 107. 

White, Mrs. U. B., note on Karen music by, 
161. n. 1. 

White Python, the, myth of, 88, 198-194, 268. 

"Wi." See Prophets. 

Widows, ostracism of, 184. 288. 

Wife purchase, remnant of. among the Karen. 

Witchcraft. See Magic. 

Women. Karen, timidity of, 28 ; dress of, 88. 
ff. ; ornaments of, 48. ff. ; beauty of, 44 ; posi- 
tion of. 64-66; 181-188. 168. 190. 249. 288; 
use of betel and tobacco by. 78. 74. 

Woodpecker, the. a bird of ill^omen, 190, 229. 

World War, the. Karens in, 806, 814. 

Worship, Karen. See Religion. Sacrifices. 

XYLOPHONE, the. 164. 

YOUNG. Rev. W. H.. 4. n. 

Yu. the. and bronze drums. 116. n. 6. 

Yunnan, original home of the Karen, 9. 12 ; 

the crossbow in. 97. n. 2 ; source of bronze 

drums, 116. 
"Y'wa," the legend of. 211-218 ; the abode of. 

268; and the Lost Book. 279-280. See also 

Religion. Christianity. 


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